Celebrating Pak’s Cricket Win Against India Comes Under India’s Anti-Terror Law

Two days after Pakistan beat India for the first time in a World Cup match, many, mostly students, face police action for “cheering” Pakistan’s win. Besides the UAPA charges invoked against medical students in Srinagar, three engineering students have been rusticated from their Agra college and a private school teacher who was expelled.

Kashmiri medical students who allegedly celebrated the Pakistan cricket team’s win over Team India at the ongoing World T20 Cup will be charged under the anti-terror law UAPA. The students will also be listed as overground workers of anti-India organisations in police records, which will deny them government-funded benefits in future, TOI reports.

Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir are investigating students and staff at two medical colleges under a harsh anti-terror law for celebrating India’s loss to archrival Pakistan in a T20 World Cup cricket game, officials said Tuesday.

Police said some students and staff at the government-run colleges cheered and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans during the match Sunday night, calling it “anti-national” activity.

Pakistan crushed India by 10 wickets for its first-ever victory against its archrival in a T20 World Cup game in Dubai. Minutes after Pakistan won the match, hundreds of people in Kashmir danced in the streets, lit firecrackers and chanted “Long live Pakistan” while seeking the end of India’s rule over the disputed region.

The celebrations came as India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, was visiting the region for the first time since New Delhi in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy, scrapped its statehood and removed inherited protections on land and jobs, further fueling tensions in the region.

Love of cricket, a legacy of Britain’s long colonial role of South Asia, is one of the few things that unites Pakistan and India despite their long history of animosity that has fueled three wars since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947, including two over control of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

The fracas over Sunday’s match shows how easily passions can be inflamed in predominantly Muslim Kashmir, where anti-India sentiment runs deep. Rebels have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

An amended anti-terror law allows police to detain people for six months without producing any evidence A police spokesman said authorities on Monday registered preliminary investigations at two police stations in the city of Srinagar under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Police said the suspects were yet to be identified and officers were using videos of the celebrations on social media in an attempt to name them.

The anti-terror law was amended in 2019 to allow the government to designate individuals as terrorists. Police can detain people for six months without producing any evidence, and the accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years. Rights activists have called the law draconian.

Over a dozen Kashmiri students were attacked in India’s northern Punjab state for celebrating Pakistan’s victory, news reports said.

India describes the armed rebellion in the portion of Kashmir it controls as a Pakistan proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism. Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.

The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict

6/10 Americans Are Concerned About Climate Change

President Joe Biden heads to a vital U.N. climate summit at a time when a majority of Americans regard the deteriorating climate as a problem of high importance to them, an increase from just a few years ago.

About 6 out of 10 Americans also believe that the pace of global warming is speeding up, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

As Biden struggles to pass significant climate legislation at home ahead of next week’s U.N. climate summit, the new AP-NORC/EPIC poll also shows that 55% of Americans want Congress to pass a bill to ensure that more of the nation’s electricity comes from clean energy and less from climate-damaging coal and natural gas.

Only 16% of Americans oppose such a measure for electricity from cleaner energy. A similar measure initially was one of the most important parts of climate legislation that Biden has before Congress. But Biden’s proposal to reward utilities with clean energy sources and penalize those without ran into objections from a coal-state senator, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, leaving fellow Democrats scrambling to come up with other ways to slash pollution from burning fossil fuels.

For some of the Americans watching, it’s an exasperating delay in dealing with an urgent problem.

“If you follow science, the signs are here,” said Nancy Reilly, a Democrat in Missouri who’s retired after 40 years as a retail manager, and worries for her children as the climate deteriorates. “It’s already here. And what was the first thing they start watering down to get this bill through? Climate change.”

“It’s just maddening,” Reilly said. “I understand why, I do — I get the politics of it. I’m sick of the politics of it.”

After President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, the Biden administration hoped to help negotiate major emissions cuts globally to slow the rise of temperatures. But it’s unclear whether Biden will be able to get any significant climate legislation through Congress before the U.N. summit starts Sunday.

In all, 59% of Americans said the Earth’s warming is very or extremely important to them as an issue, up from 49% in 2018. Fifty-four percent of Americans cited scientists’ voices as having a large amount of influence on their views about climate change, and nearly as many, 51%, said their views were influenced by recent extreme weather events like hurricanes, deadly heat spells, wildfires and other natural disasters around the world.

Over the last 60 years, the pollution pumped out by gasoline and diesel engines, power plants and other sources has changed the climate and warmed the Earth by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit, making the extremes of weather more extreme.

In east Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, leaf-peeper websites this year are advising fall foliage tourists that leaves are taking days longer than normal to turn from green to fiery orange and red. It’s not evidence of climate change as a one-off instance, but typical of the changes Americans are seeing as the Earth heats up.

“Normally you get the four seasons, fall, spring, and winter, and it goes in that way. But lately, it’s not been that,” said Jeremy Wilson, a 42-year-old who votes independent and works the grounds at a scenic chairlift park that runs people up to the top of the Smoky Mountains. “It’s been either way hotter, or way colder.”

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, while 10% believe that it is not, the poll found. Another 15% are unsure.

Among those who say it is happening, 54% say that it’s caused mostly or entirely by human activities compared to just 14% who think — incorrectly, scientists say — that it’s caused mainly by natural changes in the environment. Another 32% of Americans believe it’s a mix of human and natural factors.

And while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say climate change is happening, majorities of both parties agree that it is. That breaks down to 89% of Democrats and and 57% of Republicans.

The poll also gauged Americans’ willingness to pay for the cost of cutting climate-wrecking pollution as well as mitigating its consequences.

Fifty-two percent said they would support a $1 a month carbon fee on their energy bill to fight climate change, but support dwindles as the fee increases.

“I would say, like 5, 10 dollars, as long as it’s really being used for what it should be,” said Krystal Chivington, a 46-year-old Republican in Delaware who credits her 17-year-old daughter for reviving her own passion for fighting climate change and pollution.

It’s not ordinary consumers who should bear the brunt of paying to stave off the worst scenarios of climate change, said Mark Sembach, a 59-year-old Montana Democrat who works in environmental remediation.

“I think it needs to fall a great deal on responsible corporations that’s — and unfortunately … most corporations aren’t responsible,” Sembach said. “And I think there needs to be a lot of pushback as to who ultimately pays for that.”

Democrats Inch Closer To Legislative Deal On Biden’s Biggest Domestic Agenda

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders are driving toward a $1.75 trillion agreement that will unlock the votes for the separate infrastructure package — and arm Biden with two momentous legislative victories — as he departs for the world stage later this week.

Half its original size, President Joe Biden’s big domestic policy plan is being pulled apart and reconfigured as Democrats edge closer to satisfying their most reluctant colleagues and finishing what’s now about a $1.75 trillion package.

How to pay for it all remained deeply in flux, with a proposed billionaires’ tax running into criticism as cumbersome or worse. That’s forcing difficult reductions, if not the outright elimination, of policy priorities — from paid family leave to child care to dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors.

As per reports, Democrats stepped closer to an agreement on President Joe Biden’s agenda as Sen. Joe Manchin, who has been pushing to shrink the size of a sweeping social-spending package, said a deal on the outlines of the plan is within reach this week.

Manchin’s expression of optimism Monday marked a turnabout from his forecast last week of drawn-out negotiations, and mark the best recent sign for Biden’s domestic agenda after months of intra-party wrangling over tax and spending increases.

The once hefty climate change strategies are losing some punch, too, focusing away from punitive measures on polluters in a shift toward instead rewarding clean energy incentives.

All told, Biden’s package remains a substantial undertaking — and could still top $2 trillion in perhaps the largest effort of its kind from Congress in decades. But it’s far slimmer than the president and his party first envisioned.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers in a caucus meeting they were on the verge of “something major, transformative, historic and bigger than anything else” ever attempted in Congress, according to a person who requested anonymity to share her private remarks.

“We know that we are close,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, after a meeting with Biden at the White House.

“We want to have something to give our progressives confidence we will do both bills,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Monday evening. “We don’t have a timeline” for the infrastructure vote, he said.

Schumer said there are “three to four outstanding issues” that remain to be resolved on the tax and spending package. He said he wants to nail down the climate provisions before the president leaves for his trip.

One of the biggest issues still unsettled is how to pay for the package. Manchin, of West Virginia, had supported rolling back some of the Trump tax cuts for high earners and corporations, as Biden had proposed. But Sinema signaled her opposition to higher tax rates, turning focus to a so-called billionaires tax on assets. Manchin indicated he’s open to that idea.

The tax would apply to a wide variety of items like stocks, bonds, real estate and art, with gains in value taxed on an annual basis, regardless of whether or not the asset is sold. Annual decreases in value could also be deducted, according to a version of the proposal, which dates to 2019.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden said after a meeting among key Senate Democrats, including Manchin, that the tax plan would be drafted in the “next two days.”

Other tax proposals in flux include a possible two-year suspension of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, the imposition of a minimum corporate income tax and a stock buyback tax.

Sen. Joe Manchin is a pivotal player in negotiations on the tax and spending package along with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who also has raised objections to elements of the package. Both are key Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate.

Manchin met on Sunday with Biden and Schumer in an effort to break a months long stalemate. Biden said Monday he hopes to get an agreement on the plan before he leaves Thursday for summits in Europe that include a UN climate change conference in Glasgow.

On healthcare policy, Manchin indicated there are still differences between him, Biden and progressive Democrats. Manchin has resisted expanding Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision benefits. He said Monday that because the program faces insolvency in five years it shouldn’t be expanded without addressing deeper fiscal problems.

“I believe a final deal is within reach,” Schumer said, while signaling that members are much closer to agreement on “robust” climate provisions. There was also movement on how to pay for the package, as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) threw her weight behind a proposal for a minimum tax on corporate profits.

“This proposal represents a commonsense step toward ensuring that highly profitable corporations — which sometimes can avoid the current corporate tax rate — pay a reasonable minimum tax on their profits, just as everyday Arizonans and Arizona small businesses do,” Sinema, who also met with Biden on Tuesday evening, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday unveiled his proposal to tax billionaires’ investment gains annually, which could become a key provision in Democrats’ social-spending package.

The proposal comes as Democrats are working to determine how to raise revenue to finance spending in the package. It’s the second major tax proposal Wyden has released in recent days, following a proposal he released Tuesday to create a minimum tax on corporate profits.

“We have a historic opportunity with the Billionaires Income Tax to restore fairness to our tax code, and fund critical investments in American families,” Wyden said in a statement.

Wyden’s proposal is aimed at preventing billionaires from avoiding taxes. Currently, people don’t have to pay taxes on investment gains until they sell the assets. The proposal would affect taxpayers with assets of more than $1 billion or income of more than $100 million for three years in a row. About 700 taxpayers are expected to be subject to the tax. The proposal also includes rules designed to prevent billionaires from avoiding paying the tax.

The reality remains there are a handful of significant — and thorny — policy disputes that still must be reconciled in a matter of days. But there is no question that in the minds of top White House officials and congressional Democrats, the time for busted deadlines or elongated policy deliberations have come to an end.

The bottom line is that by the time Biden leaves for his foreign trip on Thursday, his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill could be signed into law, with an agreement on a $1.75 trillion economic and climate package in hand. Biden told reporters on Monday, “With the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbors,” a deal will be made before the trip, adding, “It’d be very positive to get it done before the trip.”

Rajinikanth, Dhanush, Kangana Ranaut, Manoj Bajpayee Honored At 67th National Film Awards

Superstar Rajinikanth received a standing ovation by the audience while he was conferred with Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest film honor, by Vice President of India, Shri Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi on October 25, 2021. The veteran star was felicitated with a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) medallion, a shawl, and a cash prize.

Actors Manoj Bajpayee and Dhanush were conferred with the Best Actor Award for their films ‘Bhonsle’ and ‘Asuran’ respectively at the 67th National Film Awards, which took place on Monday. Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut received her fourth National Film Award, as she was awarded the Best Actress Award for her performances in ‘Manikarnika: Queen of Jhansi’ and ‘Panga’.

While accepting the award, Rajinikanth took a stroll down memory lane to thank one of his old friends, who saw acting talent in him and encouraged him to try his luck in films. “I am extremely happy to receive this prestigious award. My heartfelt thanks to the central government for honouring me with the Dadasaheb Phalke award. I would like to dedicate this award to my guru K Balachander. Today, I remember him with great gratitude. I also want to thank my friend who saw this talent in me and suggested me to do acting while I was working as a bus conductor,” he recalled.

Rajinikanth also dedicated his win to all the producers, directors, members of the film industry and fans. “Thanks to everyone for their support… press, media, directors, distributors, producers and fans… my heartfelt thanks to everyone. Also, a special thanks to Tamil people… without them I am nobody,” he expressed his gratitude.

Rajinikanth attended the presentation ceremony along with his wife Latha, daughter Aishwarya, and son-in-law Dhanush. Born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad on December 12, 1950, to Ramoji Rao and Jijabai, Rajinikanth worked as a bus conductor before embarking on his film journey about 45 years ago.

He recalled his days of struggle. “When I was the bus conductor, he identified the acting talent in me and encouraged me to join the cinema. All my producers, directors, co-artistes, technicians, distributors, exhibitors and the media, press and all my fans. Tamil people – without them I am no body. Jai Hind!”

For the special occasion, Kangana chose to wear a traditional silk saree. “All set to receive the highest honor for an artist in the country today …. National Award,” she captioned the post. Earlier, she had won Best Supporting Actress for her role in ‘Fashion’ and Best Actress Awards for ‘Queen’ and ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’. After receiving the prestigious award, Kangana took to the photo-sharing application to thank her parents for being her support system.

“We all grow up with a deep desire to be worthy of our parents love, care and sacrifices…After all the troubles I give my mummy papa such days seem to make up for all those mischiefs ..Thank you for being my mummy papa I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she wrote.

Manoj, who has previously won the National Film Award twice, Best Supporting Actor in ‘Satya’, and Special Jury Award for his feature film ‘Pinjar’, was felicitated at the in-person ceremony for his performance in the Devashish Makhija directorial ‘Bhonsle’. The movie saw the ‘Family Man’ star portraying the titular character who is a retired policeman and is living a non-interfering life in a colony dominated by locals, diagnosed with stage 4 brain tumour.

Manoj, who was dressed in a black shirt and trousers for the award ceremony, spoke about receiving the award and said, “The National Award for ‘Bhonsle’ means a lot because this was a film which we wanted to make but we were not getting money from anyone to make it, it took us four years to make this film, so definitely it means the world to all of us. It’s kind of a poetic justice that has happened to ‘Bhonsle’ and I share this award with the director and the entire team.”

Dhanush received the Best Actor Award for his role in ‘Asuran’, which also won the Best Tamil Film award. It’s a period action drama film written and directed by Vetrimaaran, based on Poomani’s novel ‘Vekkai’. The film’s plot was influenced by the real-life Kilvenmani massacre that occurred in 1968. At the ceremony, Dhanush was joined by Aishwarya R Dhanush, his wife and superstar Rajinikanth’s daughter.

One of the country’s most eminent awards in entertainment, the 67th version of the National Film Awards, which were handed out to the awardees by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, was initially going to be held in May last year but had to be delayed due to the COVID pandemic.

“Chhicchore” director Nitesh Tiwari and producer Sajid Nadiadwala dedicated the Best Film Award to late Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput, who passed away in 2020. Vijay Sethupathy was awarded the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Super Deluxe.”

The Malayalam film, “Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham” (Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea), received the National Film Award for Best Feature Film. The film has been written and directed by Priyadarshan, and stars Mohanlal. The actor was also present at the awards show. “The Tashkent Files” won two awards – Best Supporting Actress, which went to Pallavi Joshi and for Best Dialogue Writer.

The 40th AAPI Convention In San Antonio, TX To Focus On “Heal The Healers” With Its Much Needed “Wellness Package” For Physicians And Families

(Chicago, IL: October 27, 2021) “Physician, heal thyself,” especially when there are growing signs of burn out among physicians, by offering positive remedial resources as part of a first ever Wellness Program being offered to participants at the 40th Annual Convention of AAPI to be held in san Antonio from June 23rd to 26th, 2022.

The Covid pandemic has impacted all aspects of human life as never been before. The past two years have been challenging to everyone, particularly those are assigned with the responsibility of caring for the sick, especially as hundreds of Millions were affected by the big pandemic. Over 115,000 health care workers died from Covid-19 from January 2020 to May of this year, according to a new World Health Organization estimate.

“The backbone of every health system is its workforce — the people who deliver the services on which we rely at some point in our lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “The pandemic is a powerful demonstration of just how much we rely on health workers and how vulnerable we all are when the people who protect our health are themselves unprotected.”

Some have argued that governments have forsaken their duty to protect health care workers and warned that pandemic would have long tail effects, with many healthcare professionals considering leaving the workforce. At this critical juncture in human history, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) the largest ethnic medical organization in the country, representing the interests of over 100,000 physicians of Indian origin, is focusing on themes such as how to take care of self and find satisfaction and happiness in the challenging situations they are in, while serving hundreds of patients everyday of their dedicated and noble profession, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President of AAPI said.   “This year AAPI Convention team from San Antonio is very much motivated on focusing on addressing physician burnout and we have planned these wellness packages. As we are seeing  in our daily lives the physician burnout has increased significantly. “We do acknowledge that these are challenging times, more than ever for us, physicians, who are on the frontline to assess, diagnose and treat people are affected by this deadly pandemic, COVID-19. Many of our colleagues have sacrificed their lives in order to save those impacted by this pandemic around the world,” Dr. Gotimukula added.

Accordingly, some of the major themes at the convention include: Yoga and Meditation practices, Welcome kit with books & self-care supplies, A Personal Reflexology Session, Take home wellness routine, Ailment based yoga therapy sessions, Workshop on Spiritual well-being, Book talk with Yoga Gurus, including on the science of Yoga & Lifestyle medicine, as well as an unique opportunity to visit first of its kind in San Antonio, Aum Ashram as part of the Wellness session.

Esteemed yoga gurus and experts, who are planned to share their wisdom and leading the Wellness Sessions include: Paramguru Sharatha Jois, Sadhvi Bhagawati, Saraswati Eddie Stern,  Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, Dr. Dilip Sarkar, Dr. Pankaj Vij, and  Dr. Param Dedhia.

“Our physician members have worked very hard during the Covid 19 pandemic as the 2022 convention is a perfect time to heal the healers with a special focus on wellness,” said Dr. Dr Jayesh Shah, Chair of AAPI Convention 2022.

In her welcome note, Dr. Hetal Nayak, Coordinator of the Wellness Program said, “With great enthusiasm we invite you to participate in our AAPI convention wellness package themed ‘Heal the Healers.’ This is the first time in the AAPI convention we offer these exclusive wellness packages geared towards the well-being of Physicians and their families by bringing the essence of science and spirituality of yoga and lifestyle medicine into our selfcare routine. As we all aware, a calm mind and a refined intellect are essential for making right choices. We promise to leave you empowered with the tools required.”

Dr. Kusum Punjaabi, Chair of AAPI BOT said, “At AAPI, the largest ethnic medical association in the nation, we are proud, we have been able to serve every 7th patient in the country. We serve in large cities, smaller towns and rural areas, sharing our skills, knowledge, compassion and expertise and caring millions of people.”

Acknowledging the need for this much needed program as part of the convention,  Dr. Ravi Kolli, President-elect  of AAPI elaborated, “Healthcare today is more complex than ever. With more advancements, tools and information at our fingertips physicians have an overwhelming job to diagnose and treat our patients every day, 24/ 7/ 365 days a year. In every city and hospital, in our military and in our rural communities, we, the doctors pave the way to provide better healthcare to our patients.”

“A huge thank you to all of the doctors, physicians, and other healthcare professionals for your dedication and commitment to service during this uncertain time,” Dr. Anjana Samadder, Vice President of AAPI said. “This is a unique opportunity for All of us, the front-line physicians who are putting our lives at risk to the save the lives of others,” Dr. Satheesh Kathula, Secretary of AAPI said. “Thank you for fighting selflessly against this virus and helping keep everyone healthy and safe,” Dr. Krishan Kumar, Treasurer of AAPI added.

During the annual convention, physicians and healthcare professionals from across the country and internationally will convene and participate in the scholarly exchange of medical advances, to develop health policy agendas, and to encourage legislative priorities in the coming year.

Planned to have a limited number of attendance due to the ongoing Coivd pandemic and the taking into account the safety of the participants, including Physicians, Healthcare Leaders, Academicians, Researchers and Medical Students, “the annual convention offers extensive academic presentations, recognition of achievements and achievers, and professional networking at the alumni and evening social events,” Dr. Gotimukula added.   For more information, please visit: www.aapiconvention.org  and www.aapiusa.org

Kids Ages 5-11 Are Now Eligible For Covid Vaccine

An FDA panel of independent advisers to the Food and Drug Administration is recommending that the agency issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 years old. The panel voted unanimously to recommend emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s Covid-19 on Tuesday, October 26th.

The FDA panel accepted Pfizer’s data indicating the vaccine is safe and 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in this age group. Members of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee agreed the benefits of vaccinating younger children appeared to outweigh the risks, but some members appeared troubled about voting to vaccinate a large population of younger children based on studies of a few thousand.

“It is reassuring to me that we are giving a lower dose,” said Dr. Paul Offit, who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Pfizer has cut its vaccine to one-third of the adult dose for the children under 12 and said clinical trials showed this lower dose protected children well against symptomatic infection. The hope is it will cause fewer side-effects. Accordingly, a dose of Pfizer for young children will contain one-third the amount of active ingredient compared to the adult dose. Children would receive a second dose 21 days or more after their first shot.

Children 5-11 years of age have accounted for approximately 9% of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. overall, and currently account for approximately 40% of all pediatric COVID-19 cases, says Dr. Doran Fink, clinical deputy director of the division of vaccines and related products for the FDA. Currently, the case rate among children ages 5 to 11 is “near the highest” of any age group, he says.

The committee’s recommendation comes as more than 1.9 million cases have been reported among children ages 5-11, with approximately 8,300 children hospitalized to date, according to the CDC. About one-third of these hospitalized children required treatment in the ICU. The rate of hospitalization is three times higher among children of color than among white children.

Unvaccinated children with COVID-19 can develop a serious complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C, as well as an inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis.

Myocarditis occurs naturally after infections with other viruses and it has also been seen as a rare side effect after vaccination with the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, especially in young men. Myocarditis was a focus of the scientific presentations and discussion on the possible risks of the vaccine if authorized for young children.

Overall, the incidence of serious adverse events reported in Pfizer’s studies was less than 2 in 1,000, Ball said, and all were found to be unrelated to the vaccine. Less serious side effects occurred more often, including swollen lymph nodes in a few children and symptoms like pain at the injection site, fatigue and headache, she said.

Capt. Amanda Cohn, a physician and medical officer with the CDC and also a voting member of the FDA committee, said that the number of children in the Pfizer studies is similar to the number that has been used to approve other childhood vaccines. “I don’t want to minimize the risk,” Cohn told the committee during a debate over the vote. “At this moment, based on the totality of the evidence, the benefits do outweigh the risk,” she said.

The agency typically goes along with the advice of its expert panels, though it isn’t bound to do so. It will issue a decision within the next several days. If the FDA authorizes the vaccine for these younger children, as seems likely, another panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would make its own recommendations and offer guidelines next week on its use among this age group.

The vaccine provides a broad defense against COVID-19 and “effectively neutralized the delta variant” in young kids, said Dr. William Gruber, senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development at Pfizer, speaking during the committee hearing.

Gruber said the dose size was chosen to “strike the right balance” between providing strong immunity and limiting side effects. He said that the observed adverse effects seen in the company’s studies “did not suggest any safety concerns.” An FDA review supported that conclusion.

The FDA will now take the committee’s vote under consideration and is likely to extend EUA to the vaccine for younger children in the coming days. Then vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet next week, November 2-3, to discuss the decision and decide whether to recommend that US kids get the vaccine. The final word will lie with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, and vaccination could begin next week if she gives the go-ahead.

Dandiya Night By Aarush Entertainment Brings Community Together

The whirling dancers, clapping hands, distinct sound of wooden sticks struck together, toe tapping music and people wearing colorful clothes marked the Navratri celebration at the Garba & Dandiya Raas dances held all over Chicagoland. The Aarush Entertainment celebrated dandiya night to celebrate the festival season with one thousand plus community members at Oswego East High School, Oswego, IL.

The event was organized by Manoj Rathod and Tanmay Patel featured two very well-known versatile vocalists Badal Parmar and Bharti Desai who kept the atmosphere upbeat and devotional and had everyone dancing throughout the entire event. Badal Parmar performed traditional Kathiawadi style garba as well as popular Hindi songs. His style of performance reflects an immense amount of Gujarati garba as well as modern beats. This unique style of singing is what makes him such a versatile performer. Garba Queen of United State of America Desai who is an award-winning singer in Chicago enthralled the audience with her charming personality. She continued amazing Garbas in Two Taali. In Raas everybody enjoyed Disco Dandia, Sanedo, Amu Kaka Bapa Na, Bhai-Bhai, Hitch..

There were   participants   of   all   ages of men and women   of   about   1000+   people, enjoying and celebrating the festivities. Many in the audience, especially ladies of all ages   wore colorful   and traditional   dresses   for   this   special   occasion   with matching ornaments.

“Navaratri Garba is very special as it honors Shakti in very rhythmic ways.  We all love the whole atmosphere of colors, the clothes and of course, the music and then there is always the fun of dressing traditionally. Western dresses are replaced by Lengha-Choli, matching jewelry and foot wear”, said one of the participants.  The evening was followed by traditional garba music and concluded in the wee hours of morning highlighted by devotional Arti of Mataji.

The Aarush Entertainment company offers event planning & management services that also includes wedding designing, planning, management & consultancy, adopting a comprehensive approach & professional management information system to plan and produce a world class event experience each & every time all over the world. The highly skilled team of professionals at Aarush Entertainment strives hard to accomplish the highest standard of quality, effectiveness & novelty with due importance to the budgetary considerations.

WHO Needs More Data To Approve Covaxin

Seeking “additional clarifications” for a final “risk-benefit assessment” in order to grant emergency use listing (EUL) to Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, the technical advisory group (TAG) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has held back approval for the indigenously developed vaccine, till at least one more week, if not longer. This, after the TAG convened on Tuesday specifically to discuss granting EUL to Covaxin.

The TAG — which is an independent advisory group that recommends to WHO on whether a Covid-19 vaccine fulfils criteria for EUL or not — will meet next on November 3.

This increases the uncertainty about the vaccination status of millions of people who received the two jabs of Covaxin as several regions, including North America and the European Union, only consider those people fully vaccinated who have received their full course of WHO-approved vaccines.

The WHO last week said that it “cannot cut corners” in granting EUL to the vaccine. It had also put the onus of the delay on Bharat Biotech, saying that the timeframe for granting EUL depends on how quickly a company can submit all the data required in order to evaluate the vaccine’s quality, safety, efficacy and its suitability for low- and middle-income countries.

The company, which has been submitting clinical trial data of its vaccine on a rolling basis to the WHO, had earlier in May said that it had applied for WHO’s EUL that was expected between July to September. Later in June, it claimed that it had held a “pre-submission” briefing with the world health body regarding EUL approval for Covaxin. Last month, in a statement, it said that “all data was submitted for EUL Application to WHO in early July.”

A pre-submission briefing provides an opportunity to the company to receive advice and guidance before submission of the final dossier, as well as an opportunity to meet WHO assessors who will be involved in examining their product. This implies that it should be held before submitting the application — and not after it.

Even earlier this month, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) of the WHO had held back on giving EUL to Covaxin, which has demonstrated 77.8% efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 and 65.2% efficacy against the Delta variant.

Hindu Women’s Network Launched In Chicago

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, VHPA, also referred to as the World Hindu Council of America, announced the launch of the Chicagoland chapter of Hindu Women’s Network Oct. 23, 2021, at Gaylord India Restaurant, Chicago, IL.

According to a press release from VHPA, a group of 40 Hindu women met at the Gaylord India Restaurant in Chicago and announced the formation of the Chicagoland Chapter of “Hindu Women’s Network. The meeting was addressed by an invited panel of three women who have achieved success in the fields of medicine, media and politics.

There was invited panel of three women from the Hindu Community who have achieved success in fields of Medicine, Media and Politics.

Dr. Panna Barai MD from Munster Indiana was the Keynote speaker as she has been associated with VHPA since past 40-plus years, and gave her blessing and message of Nari Shakti to take charge as Hindus in America are now in 3rd and 4th Generation, and there are many areas where women need support at home and in professional lives and keeping it balanced.

Mrs. Vandana Jhingan TV Asia correspondent/Journalist and US Media bureau chief for “Hindi Khabar” gave a very passionate speech on topic of Hindu Women and Media portrayal.

Jhingan talked about influence of media on young Hindu females and what we should be aware of. She talked about journalistic ethics and importance of reporting events not creating news and sharing opinions. She also shared a video of an independent movie made by US Producer which is held by Indian Censor board, freedom of sharing a point of view is blocked and why the topic of the movie most related to the young Hindu girls.

Meghna Bansal, Trustee of the Wheatland Township and a owner manager of a Technology company, talked about importance of involvement in the local politics. Her point was simple “you might not be interested in politics, but politics is making decisions which impact all of you”. Her journey from India and moving to USA over 25 years back and how she got involved with local homeowners association and progression from there to Local Township Trustee position.

The event was organized Vishwa Hindu Parishad Chicago chapter’s women’s group. Mrs. Anisha S. Shah, Ms. Neela Patel, Mrs. Hetal N. Pate, Mrs. Nimisha K. Patel, Mrs. Yashswaini Desai, and Mrs. Preet Mittal. Hindu Women’s Network invites women from all walks of life to join this movement and help with community building projects.

IAMC Urges FB To Help End India’s “Genocidal Rhetoric” Against Minorities

The Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, called on Facebook to take immediate action against India’s hate speech epidemic, which has directly led to violence in the past and will continue to have deadly consequences if left unchecked.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, has exposed the company’s failure to curb hate speech, which has led to societal division and violence against vulnerable populations in multiple countries, including India. Within Facebook groups and WhatsApp chats, most instances of fake news, fear-mongering propaganda, lynching videos, gory images, and hateful content are freely circulated with no pushback.

India is Facebook’s largest market, with 340 million active users, and yet the company allocates only scant time and resources towards monitoring India-specific hate speech and fake news. As a result, such content has resulted in real-life consequences for minorities in India, especially Muslims. The Wall Street Journal reports that “inflammatory content on Facebook spiked 300% above previous levels at times during the months following December 2019, a period in which religious protests swept India.”

The sheer volume of anti-Muslim hate speech culminated in the 2020 Delhi pogroms, according to a report reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. “Rumors and calls to violence” were spread widely in the lead up to the clashes, which left 53 dead. The majority of the victims were Muslims, beaten and lynched at the hands of Hindu supremacist mobs.

According to Haugen, Indian Facebook is awash with “dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’ and misinformation claiming the Quran calls for men to rape their female family members.” Rumors that “Hindus are in danger” are common, padded by unfounded claims that Muslims were responsible for the spread of Covid-19, that Muslim men have an agenda to seduce and convert Hindu women to Islam, and that Muslims are generally anti-nationals who hate all Hindus.

“Facebook’s continued dereliction of duty in the face of mounting evidence of how its platform is enabling violence and genocide, is an alarm bell for all who care about human rights and democracy,” said Mr. Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Editor of IAMC. “As Facebook has failed to clean house despite multiple exposes, it is time for regulators to step in.”

This report is consistent with criticisms human rights organizations have made of India since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, writes: “This divisive political discourse has served to normalize violence against minorities, especially Muslims, in India. Prejudices embedded in the government have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.”

This rhetoric trickles down from some of the most powerful figureheads of the Indian government, which in turn normalizes extremism among the general population. A leaked document shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ideological offspring of the RSS and the party of Narendra Modi, encourages the use of multiple accounts under a single user, which aids in the spread of propaganda. The Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremist group with links to the BJP, frequently posts anti-Muslim hate speech on the platform. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organization of the Hindu supremacist movement, was specifically called out by Hagen for promoting “fear mongering” and “anti-Muslim narratives,” and targeting propaganda towards “pro-Hindu populations with V&I (violent and incendiary) intent.”

Facebook’s failures in India mirror its deadly role in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. If left unchecked, India’s hate speech problem could likely culminate in a similar genocide.

The Indian American Muslim Council is committed to working with human rights advocates in the US and in India to safeguard India’s pluralism and religious freedom for people of all faiths.

The Congress Party in India demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee into Facebook’s content moderation policies following revelations that the company was less stringent in curbing inflammatory posts, particularly Islamophobic content, on its platform.

“What right does Facebook have to push a particular ideology through fake posts, pictures and a narrative,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said. “The role of Facebook can no longer be dismissed as an error of omission as they are knowingly furthering the agenda of the ruling party and its ideology which is hate-filled, bigotry and dividing society.”

According to leaked internal documents, Facebook stopped short of flagging RSS-affiliated pages despite they promoting anti-Muslim narratives with violent intent; did not consider as “coordinated inauthentic behavior” when a BJP worker posted inflammatory posts from multiple accounts in the run-up to the West Bengal election; and failed to remove posts calling for violence against Muslim during last year’s Delhi riots.

65,000 More Men Than Women Died Of COVID-19 In The US

Men are much more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. This is true globally – where the death rate has been about 50% higher for men. Notably, this gap does not appear to be explained either by differences in the number of confirmed cases or in pre-existing conditions. With the pandemic cutting life expectancy of American men by more than two years, it is important to understand and mitigate risks associated with COVID-19 mortality among men.

Building on earlier work with Tiffany Ford from May 2020, “COVID-19 much more fatal for men, especially taking age into account,” we draw here on updated CDC data to examine the gender mortality gap by age, and over time in the U.S. Our main findings are:

The overall death rate for men is 1.6 times higher than the death rate for women; The gap is widest in the middle of the age distribution, with 184 male deaths for every 100 female deaths.

As death rates have fallen, the gender gap has narrowed slightly

  • The gap is not explained by a higher number of cases among men, or differences in pre-existing conditions
  • In Georgia and Michigan, Black men have the highest death rates, followed by Black women
  • Improving access to care and addressing vaccine hesitancy, especially for Black men, should be a high priority

The gender gap in death rates

Men have had a higher crude death rate than women, as the chart using CDC data from February 2020 to August 2021 shows. By the end of August, over 65,000 more men than women had died from COVID-19 (362,187 male deaths and 296,567 female deaths).

The gender gap is even wider when differences in the male and female age distributions are taken into account, since there are many more older women than men in the population, and age is the biggest risk factor in COVID deaths. In 2021, mortality rates for men and women have dropped sharply, but somewhat faster for men than women, leading to a slight narrowing of the gap over time. More recently, though, death rates for men and women have risen again due to the spread of the Delta variant, with greater increases among men than women.

Middle-aged men are especially vulnerable

The picture varies across the age distribution, however. The gap is largest for those towards the middle of the age distribution. Among those aged 45 to 64, for example, the number of male deaths as of September 15, 2021, was 79,711, almost twice the number of female deaths, at 45,587.

We also calculate the ratio in death rates (male death rate: female death rate) in COVID-19 mortality for specific age groups. For all age groups, we calculate a similar ratio, but age-standardize the death rates. As of September 15, 2021, the overall adjusted male death rate was 1.63 times higher than the overall adjusted female death rate. This means that men make up 62% of all (age-standardized) COVID deaths. Again, the male-female gap is most prominent in those at or just past middle age: among those aged 45-64, there are 184 male deaths for every 100 female deaths.

COVID cases similar for men and women…

One possible explanation for the mortality gap could be that men are more likely to contract COVID-19. But while it is difficult to assess case counts due to access and demand for testing, raw data on the number of cases by age and sex from the CDC suggest very similar levels for men and women (note that the age brackets are not exactly the same as shown above, because of the way CDC data is presented).

In fact, women have slightly higher case numbers, possibly because they may make up a greater share of riskier jobs that are high-contact and inflexible, such as healthcare support, personal care and services, and food preparation (although it is important to acknowledge that men make up a greater share of those in high-risk jobs like meatpacking). Likewise, these industries might require more routine testing, leading to an over-reporting in mild/asymptomatic cases. On the other hand, men might be less likely to test for asymptomatic cases, leading to less reported cases overall. Correcting for these measurement issues would give a more accurate cmparison of COVID-19 cases by sex.

…and pre-existing conditions do not explain the gap

Another possible explanation for the mortality gap is a higher rate of pre-existing conditions among men that make them more vulnerable to the virus. Again, some evidence suggests that this is not a major factor. One study of an Illinois hospital system by Joanne Michelle Gomez and co-authors, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, concluded that “male sex was independently associated with death, hospitalization, ICU admissions, and need for vasopressors or endotracheal intubation, after correction for important covariates.”

Another review of risk factors for hospitalization finds that men and women have similar rates of conditions associated with greater vulnerability, although there are some differences in specific conditions. For instance, “obesity, chronic kidney disease and hypertension were associated with higher rates of ICU admission among men, whereas obesity and heart failure were associated with higher rates of ICU admission among women.” These sex-specific differences make it important to better understand the relationship between sex, risk factors, and COVID-19 mortality, especially for different age cohorts and racial groups. As we discuss below, biological differences by sex are not the same across race, and there are additional factors at play that drive differences in death rates among women.

The gender gap has changed over the pandemic

The mortality gap has somewhat narrowed for some age groups since the start of 2021. Figure 5 shows that the death rate ratio for middle-aged adults was around 1.8 prior to February 2021. More recently, this ratio has leveled around 1.5, representing a decline of around 17 percent.

Black men fare worst of all

There are of course other gaps in vulnerability to COVID-19, especially by race. Our previous study from the earlier stages of the pandemic “Race gaps in COVID-19 deaths are even bigger than they appear” showed for example that among middle-aged adults, Black and Hispanic or Latino death rates are six times higher than those for white people.

This means that while there is a gap between men and women within racial groups, race is often a bigger factor. Tamara Rushovich and her colleagues, drawing on data from Georgia and Michigan, find that while Black men have the highest COVID mortality rates – six times higher than for white men – the next most vulnerable group is Black women. They also find that the sex gap varies by race, especially in Michigan, where, as they report, “the mortality rate for Black men is 170% times the rate for Black women, which is significantly higher than the equivalent ratio among white individuals: the rate is only 130% higher for white men compared to white women.”

Interestingly, the authors also point out that the COVID mortality gap between Black women and white women is significantly greater than the gap between white men and white women. This suggests that the biological sex differences in mortality cannot be treated as constant across all racial groups.

Rushovich and her co-authors also do not put much weight on “individual behaviors and beliefs” to explain the race or sex gaps in mortality (or indeed sex gaps within race), pointing instead to “structural factors including occupation and access to healthcare.” This seems right, but it is nonetheless important to understand potential behavioral reasons behind the disparate death rates, especially as it relates to the decision to get vaccinated.

Get men (especially Black men) vaccinated

The gender gap in COVID-19 mortality is the result of a combination of factors, which may differ by race, class, geography and other variables. This is a stark reminder of the need for disaggregated health data to inform an intersectional approach to analysis. Gaining a better understanding of biological differences, case counts, and risk factors will be an ongoing task for scientific researchers.

More immediately, an urgent public health priority is to encourage and incentivize those most vulnerable to the virus to get vaccinated. Both race and gender matter here. As of September 21, 2021, Black Americans were six percentage points less likely than white Americans to have had at least one vaccine dose (41% compared to 35%). The racial disparity in vaccination rates is likely due to a combination of persistent barriers to access and structural inequities, which not only includes geographical access, but also logistics, methods of communication, timing, and registration.

Many cities such as Philadelphia have facilitated better access to their underserved Black communities by partnering with community churches, opening alternative vaccination facilities such as local pharmacies, and using more direct methods of communication rather than with emails and Web portals. But while this has worked to some extent, there remain considerable gaps in vaccination take-up by race. Even among health care workers who had early and constant access to vaccines, Black workers were almost five times more likely than white workers to be hesitant about getting vaccinated. Our colleagues Sarah Reber and Cyrus Kosar also find that Black nursing home residents are likely to be in high-risk facilities with low vaccination rates, despite being one of the first few groups offered the vaccine.

What this means is that, in addition to improving access for underserved communities, we need additional research on the interventions that can effectively address hesitancy and increase demand for vaccine uptake. The Washington Post reports that “tapping into the communities where people live, drawing on information, outreach and vaccine administrators from those communities” is one good way to overcome hesitancy.

In addition to the racial gaps in vaccine rates, there is a gender gap too: 66% of women have had at least one vaccine dose, compared to 62% of men. Many states are also offering various vaccine incentive schemes – it may be worth seeing which have proven most effective with men. Especially with the spread of the new Delta variant, improving access and addressing vaccine hesitancy among the most vulnerable groups – including men, and especially Black men – must be a high priority for policymakers.

2 Indians Led Firms In Forbes List of Future Billion Dollar Companies

Two Indian American-led companies made Forbes magazine’s annual list of 25 venture-backed startups that are most likely to become unicorns, with valuations of more than $1 billion.

Legion Technologies, founded by Sanish Mondkar; and Alchemy, co-founded by Nikil Viswanathan and Joseph Lau are featured in the new List released by Forbes earlier this month.

“A $1 billion valuation isn’t what it used to be, as companies reach that milestone at breakneck speed, noted Forbes, adding that even startups with barely any revenue are earning sky-high valuations as investors bet on future growth.

The average estimated 2020 revenue for companies on this year’s list is just $12 million; last year’s list featured startups with an average of $30 million in revenue.

“Still there are plenty of up-and-comers worth keeping an eye on, including one that tests your dog’s DNA and another that will help you notarize documents from the comfort of your home. This list represents the 25, in alphabetical order, that we think have the best shot of becoming future stars,” said the magazine, in its introduction to the list.

Mondkar, a former chief product officer at SAP, left his job in 2015. He then traveled around the country with his two dogs, talking with people outside of Silicon Valley, according to his profile in Forbes. A year later, he founded Legion Technologies, a workforce management software that helps employers manage their hourly wage workers.

“There is no innovation targeted at these hourly workers,” says Mondkar, 48. The Redwood City, California-based company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help its customers forecast demand and optimize their labor costs, while taking into account employees’ preferences for when and how they work. “Most employees quit these jobs because of schedule conflicts,” he said. “The goal for the algorithms is to prioritize both sides.”

“Good jobs create happier, more productive employees who are less likely to quit,” wrote Mondkar in a blog post. “At an average cost of $4,969 per employee who quits, imagine how much money could be saved if they stayed on board.”

Philz Coffee was Legion’s first customer. Dollar General and SoulCycle also use Mondkar’s technology. With increased attention on workforce issues during the pandemic, Legion revenues are expected to more than double this year, to $11 million, predicted Forbes, noting that Legion’s 2020 revenue was $5 million. Mondkar has raised $85 million in equity from First Round Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Stripes, XYZ.

Viswanathan and Lau co-founded Alchemy in 2017, a year after building Down to Lunch, which The New York Times touted as “the hottest new social app in America.” Alchemy makes it easier to read and write information onto blockchains, such as Ethereum and Flow. “Alchemy provides the leading blockchain development platform powering over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users in every country globally. Our mission is to enable developers to bring the magic of blockchain to the world,” wrote Viswanathan in his LinkedIn profile.

“The computer and internet fundamentally improved human life on planet earth. We’re excited to help enable the global opportunity of blockchain – the next tectonic shift,” he said.

The service starts free for smaller developers, but larger customers pay a monthly fee. The San Francisco-based firm is on pace to increase revenue tenfold this year, to an estimated $20 million, as it helps clients like PwC, Unicef and OpenSeat conduct more than $30 billion in volume annually, noted Forbes in its profile of the company. Alchemy’s 2020 revenue was $2 million. The company has raised $96 million in equity from Addition, Coatue, and Pantera.

Tamil Film ‘Koozhangal’ To Compete At Oscars 2022

Debutant director PS Vinothraj’s Tamil film Koozhangal (Pebbles) has been announced as India’s official entry to the Oscars 2022. If selected, the film will compete for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film next year.

Actor Vicky Kaushal congratulated producers of the Tamil film “Koozhangal,” Nayanthara and Vignesh Shivan, as their movie became India’s official entry to the Oscars 2022. Taking to his Instagram handle, Kaushal wrote, “Congratulations Vignesh Sivan, Nayanthara, and Team #Koozhangal! Go for glory!!!”

Shaji N Karun, the chairperson of the 15-member selection committee, set up by the Film Federation of India, made the announcement. The 94th Academy Awards will be held on March 27, 2022, in Los Angeles. On a related note, Kaushal’s latest film “Sardar Udham” along with Vidya Balan’s “Sherni,” Yogi Babu’s Tamil movie “Mandela,” and Martin Prakkat-led Malayalam film “Nayattu” were also shortlisted for India’s official entry to the Oscars. However, only “Koozhangal” (Pebbles) could make the cut.

Presented by Nayanthara and Vignesh’s Rowdy Pictures, “Koozhangal” has been helmed by debutant director PS Vinothraj. The movie follows the journey of an alcoholic father and his son who are on their way to bringing back their wife-mother, who has left home. It stars actors Karuththadaiyaan and Chellapandi in the lead roles.

Elated about his film becoming India’s official entry for the 94th Academy Awards, Vignesh tweeted, “There’s a chance to hear this! And the Oscars goes to…. Two steps away from a dream come true moment in our lives. #Pebbles #Nayanthara @PsVinothraj @thisisysr @AmudhavanKar @Rowdy_Pictures Can’t be prouder, happier & content.”

The film, released in 2021, is also the recipient of the prestigious Tiger Award, the top honor at the 50th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021. The other films in consideration to be India’s official Oscars 2022 entry included Amit Masurkar’s Sherni and Shoojit Sircar’s biopic Sardar Udham. India’s submissions to the Oscars in recent years include Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy.

No Indian film has ever won an Oscar thus far. The last Indian film that made it to the final list of nominations in the Best International Feature category was Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan in 2001. Mother India (1958) and Salaam Bombay (1989) are the other Indian films to have made it to the final nominations.

Facebook Dithered in Curbing Divisive User Content in India

Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over its motivations and interests.

Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.

The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved. Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.

Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.

The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.

According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.

This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.

The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.

In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”

Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.

The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.

One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.

“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote. The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.

“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.

The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in spurring such malcontent. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical U.S. user.

Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”

The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”

“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.

Artificial Intelligence Can Predict The Future Of The Earth

Newswise — AI offers additional possibilities, greater accuracy for climate models. Computer simulations that scientists use to understand the evolution of the Earth’s climate offer a wealth of information to public officials and corporations planning for the future. However, climate models — no matter how complex or computationally intensive — do contain some degree of uncertainty. Addressing this uncertainty is proving increasingly important as decision makers are asking more complex questions and looking to smaller scales.

To improve climate simulations, scientists are looking to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI). AI has offered profound insights in fields from materials science to manufacturing, and climate researchers are excited to explore how AI can be used to revolutionize how the Earth system, and especially its water cycle, can be simulated in order to dramatically improve our understanding and representation of the real world.  In particular, AI offers the potential to dramatically increase the accuracy of predictions down to the scales of interest to scientists, and even stakeholders focused on designing, financing and deploying equitable climate solutions to America’s most disadvantaged communities.

Motivated by this opportunity, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is launching a comprehensive workshop: Artificial Intelligence for Earth System Predictability (AI4ESP). After the collection of more than 150 white papers from the scientific community, AI4ESP is kicking into high gear by hosting a workshop beginning October 25. The workshop will include 17 sessions over a six-week period designed to create a new scientific community that marries climate research with artificial intelligence, applied math and supercomputing.

“Earth system predictability refers to the intersection of climate with hydrology, ecology, infrastructure and human activities,” said Nicki Hickmon, an Argonne scientist, director of operations for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility and the lead for the AI4ESP workshop.

By linking researchers in Earth system predictability and computer sciences, AI4ESP seeks to create a paradigm shift in simulating the Earth system. AI4ESP seeks to inspire a new generation of AI algorithms specifically aimed at Earth system predictability.

According to Hickmon, continuous improvements will enhance the ability of current simulations to provide deeper insights into community-scale issues and those involving extreme weather, potentially allowing stakeholders a better grasp of the uncertainties that surround such events.

“AI for climate is still in its infancy,” said Hickmon. ​“However, it is still essential that we explore the potential of AI to see how it can better inform our models and prepare us for the future.”

Click here to see the agenda and register for the workshop, which will open with an address by Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk. The public is welcome to attend any of the open sessions. Some components of the workshop are invitation-only in order to gather the required materials for the workshop report.

The workshop is sponsored by the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research and Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience

US Releases Details For Safer, More Stringent International Air Travel System

As the countries around the world continue to work to protect people from COVID-19, the Biden Administration has released additional detail around implementation of the new international air travel policy requiring foreign national travelers to the United States to be fully vaccinated. This updated policy puts in place an international travel system that
is stringent, consistent across the globe, and guided by public health.

Starting on November 8, non-citizen, non-immigrant air travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the U.S., with only limited exceptions. The updated travel guidelines also include new protocols around testing. To further strengthen protections, unvaccinated travelers – whether U.S. Citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), or the small number of excepted unvaccinated foreign nationals – will now need to test within one day of departure.
Today, the Administration is releasing the following documents to implement these
requirements:

1) A Presidential Proclamation to Advance the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic;

2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Orders on vaccination, testing, and contact tracing; and

3) Technical instructions to provide implementation details to the airlines and their passengers. With science and public health as our guide, the United States has developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel. The additional detail released today provides airlines and international air travelers with time to prepare for this new policy ahead of the November 8 implementation date. As previously announced, fully vaccinated foreign nationals will also be able to travel across the Northern and Southwest land borders for non-essential reasons, such as tourism, starting on November 8. Additional detail on amendments to restrictions with respect to land borders will be available in the coming days. Travelers can find full details about today’s air travel announcement on the CDC and Department of State websites. A summary is below:

The White House has outlined new rules for foreign travelers to the US, as flight restrictions lift for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020.

  • The plan to reopen the US border next month to foreign flights includes a requirement that almost all foreign visitors be vaccinated against Covid.
  • The US travel ban has grown to include dozens of countries, including the UK, much of Europe, China and India.
  • The travel industry has been asking for US President Joe Biden to lift the ban.
  • Originally imposed by Donald Trump, the ban on flights from most foreign countries was extended when Mr Biden took power in January 2021.
  • The rule bans most visitors from Brazil, China, South Africa, the UK, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe, Ireland, India and Iran.

The proclamation signed by Mr Biden on Monday, October 25th says that airlines will be required to check travelers’ vaccination status before they can board departing planes.

“It is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the Covid-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States,” Mr Biden’s proclamation says.

 

Fully Vaccinated Status:
• Starting on November 8, non-citizen, non-immigrant air travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the U.S.

Proof of Vaccination:
• For foreign nationals, proof of vaccination will be required – with very limited exceptions – to board the plane.

  • Passengers will need to show their vaccination status, and the airlines will need to:
    Match the name and date of birth to confirm the passenger is the same person reflected on the proof of vaccination;
    Determine that the record was issued by an official source (e.g., public health agency, government agency) in the country where the vaccine was given;
    .Review the essential information for determining if the passenger meets CDC’s definition for fully vaccinated such as vaccine product, number of vaccine doses received, date(s) of administration, site (e.g., vaccination clinic, health care facility) of vaccination.
    • The Biden Administration will work closely with the airlines to ensure that these new requirements are implemented successfully.Accepted Vaccines:
    • CDC has determined that for purposes of travel to the United States, vaccines accepted will include FDA approved or authorized and World Health Organization (WHO) emergency use listed (EUL) vaccines.
    • Individuals can be considered fully vaccinated ≥2 weeks after receipt of the last dose if they have received any single dose of an FDA approved/authorized or WHO EUL approved single-dose series (i.e., Janssen), or any combination of two doses of an FDA approved/authorized or WHO emergency use listed COVID-19 two-dose series (i.e. mixing and matching).
    • More details are available in the CDC Annex here.

    Enhanced Testing:
    • Previously, all travelers were required to produce a negative viral test result within three days of travel to the United States.
    • Both nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), such as a PCR test, and antigen tests qualify.
    • As announced in September, the new system tightens those requirements, so that unvaccinated U.S. Citizens and LPRs will need to provide a negative test taken within one day of traveling.
    • That means that all fully vaccinated U.S. Citizens and LPRs traveling to the United States should be prepared to present documentation of their vaccination status alongside their negative test result.
    • For those Americans who can show they are fully vaccinated, the same requirement currently in place will apply – they have to produce a negative test result within three days of travel.
    • For anyone traveling to the United States who cannot demonstrate proof of full vaccination, they will have to produce documentation of a negative test within one day of departure.

    Requirements for Children:

  • Children under 18 are excepted from the vaccination requirement for foreign national travelers, given both the ineligibility of some younger children for vaccination, as well as the global variability in access to vaccination for older children who are eligible to be vaccinated.
    • Children between the ages of 2 and 17 are required to take a pre-departure test.
    • If traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, an unvaccinated child can test three days prior to departure (consistent with the timeline for fully vaccinated adults). If an unvaccinated child is traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults, they will have to test within one day of departure.Limited Exceptions from the Vaccination Requirement:
    • There are a very limited set of exceptions from the vaccination requirement for foreign nationals. These include exceptions for children under 18, certain COVID- 19 vaccine clinical trial participants, those with medical contraindications to the vaccines, those who need to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons (with a US government-issued letter affirming the urgent need to travel), those who are traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability (as determined by the CDC), and other very narrow categories.

    Contact Tracing:
    • The CDC is also issuing a Contact Tracing Order that requires all airlines flying into the United States to keep on hand – and promptly turn over to the CDC, when needed – contact information that will allow public health officials to follow up with inbound air travelers who are potentially infected or have been exposed to someone who is infected.
    • This is a critical public health measure both to prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of new variants of COVID-19 as well as to add a critical prevention tool to address other public health threats.

Indonesian Former President’s Daughter Embraces Hinduism

A daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, has converted from Islam to Hinduism during a ceremony in the predominantly Hindu province of Bali. Diah Mutiara Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, Soekarno’s third daughter, officially became a Hindu on Oct. 26 during the ceremony called a Sudhi Wadani at the Soekarno Center in Buleleng district.

It took place amid tight security on what was her 70th birthday and was attended by only around 50 guests — mostly family members — due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was reported that Sukmawati, the founder of the Indonesian National Party and sister of the country’s fifth president, Megawati Soekarnoputri, decided to become a Hindu because her Balinese grandmother had been a devotee.

Her conversion also comes a couple of years after she was accused of making “blasphemous” remarks about Islam.

In 2018, she was reported to police by several groups over a poem she wrote and read out at a fashion event. She allegedly mocked Sharia law, the niqab face veil and the Muslim call to prayer.

In 2019, she was reported to the police again over a speech she gave to mark National Heroes Day in which she supposedly compared her father with the Prophet Muhammad.

“Who fought for [Indonesia’s] independence in the 20th century, the Prophet Muhammad or Soekarno?” she said.

Prior to this, she was also overheard asking “Which one is better, Pancasila or the Quran?” referring to the national state ideology and Islam’s holy book. Police, however, dropped the cases, citing a lack of evidence.

Novel Chaidir Hasan Bamukmin, a lawyer who filed one of the complaints in 2019, said he was not surprised by her conversion.

“I should be grateful, though, that she finally has made her religious feelings clear. I was so confused about her religion before. It was said she was a Muslim, but she insulted Islam,” he told UCA News.

Abdul Mu’ti, general secretary of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, said he respected Sukmawati’s conversion. “It is her decision. She has chosen Hinduism. I hope she will feel at peace and find joy,” he told UCA News.

Metropolitan Asian Family Services Holds Fundraiser Gala

Metropolitan Asian Family Services (MAFS) kicked off a star studded and safe in person event after a year and a half of combating COVID-19 on October 17, 2021. It was a colossal success! October 17th is a very significant date for MAFS as the Governor of Illinois Proclaimed this day as “MAFS DAY”.

Vibrant and Charming Neil Khot and Richa Chand were the emcees who did a tremendous job who kept the show exciting until the very end. Dr. Vijnay Prabhakar did an excellent job outlining the show as the chair of the Gala.

The show commenced with the Lamp Lighting ceremony by the MAFS Board Members, President Dr. Firdaus Jafri, Vice-President Mr. Nikunj Baxi, Secretary Dr. Rakesh Asthana, Treasurer Sagar Kumar, Board members James D’Mello, Dr. Sonal Patel, Vasanti Bhatt, Monali Desai and the Founder/Executive Director, Dr. Mrs Santosh Kumar.

This was followed by the Governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker’s speech where he praised and appreciated MAFS’s commendable work to serve and empower the seniors and immigrant communities for 29 years. This is certainly a big honor for MAFS! Next was an elegant dance performance, Ganesh Vandana by renowned dancer Madhura Sane who filled the stage with her graceful and pious dancing praising Lord Ganesh. Her beautiful and eloquent dance moves were a treat to watch. We felt as though Lord Ganapathy had graced the occasion.

Dr. Firduas Jafri, President of MAFS who is an accomplished dentist with her own practice in Carol Stream, IL addressed the audience with her welcoming speech and asked the people to donate generously to support MAFS to sustain its programs to help the community. This was followed by our very own vibrant Grants Manager, Roshita Pandey’s speech on MAFS in action 2020 – 2021. Here she welcomed the dignitaries as she glorified and detailed the vital programs of MAFS. She stressed on the fact that MAFS is a Not-For-Profit organization with limited funding. She amplified that in order to continue its programs which is much needed by our seniors we depend on gracious donors to cover the expenses that the grants do not cover. Her passion for MAFS programs to help the community was obvious in her speech. Kudos to you Roshita Pandey!

A special shout out to the dancers from the Tarana Dance Academy and the Saloni group. The experienced dancers were well coordinated with precise choreography which helped them receive a loud roar of applause from the audience. Their choice of costume was so apt.

Next was the annual report/ Financial Review given by Mr. Sagar Kumar/ CFO, MAFS. He put together a clear vision of the report. He said that this year was the best year for MAFS financially and gave credit to our Grants Manager Roshita Pandey for her efforts to bring in Grants for MAFS.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly, chairman of the democratic party of Illinois was called on stage to talk as our Keynote speaker. In her speech she praised MAFS for its life changing programs and connecting with seniors of the community to keep them safe and well. She said a lot of her work is related to what MAFS does. She praised Dr. Mrs. Santosh Kumar for her hard work and dedication to serve the community. She is grateful for the work MAFS does to serve the undeserved population to lead a better life through vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid, social security, snap and many more.

She continued to praise MAFS for serving more than 10,000 people and said that it was “Remarkable”. She applauded Dr. Santosh Kumar for keeping her doors open with the programs for the people who may not find these vital programs elsewhere. She compelled MAFS to continue its programs especially programs like the adult literacy program, Translation and interpretation program, immigration program. She thanked MAFS for being a liaison to Washington in serving the community with all its vital programs. She said that Washington is working on helping organizations like MAFS to better serve the elderly. Hats off to MAFS!

Next our very own Naperville staff showcased a colorful garba dance. Kudos to all our Naperville participants for doing such a great job and showing off their hidden talents.  Following this entertaining dance, Congressman Rajakrishnamoorthi spoke and praised Dr. Santosh Kumar for her outstanding work to the community. He urged people to donate for the good cause and dedication of MAFS. He mentioned that Dr. Kumar is so aptly named “Mother Theresa of Chicago”, a title well deserved. He also thanked Dr. Jafri and other board members. He thanked the other dignitaries present like, Congresswoman, Robin Kelly, Mayor of Hanover Park – Rodney Craig, Senator Laura Murphy, Senator Cristina Castro, Representative Michelle Mussman and Representative Janet Yang for taking the time to join this gala to support MAFS.

He wished everyone Happy Dasahara and a Happy Diwali which is the season of triumph of good over evil and knowledge prevailing over ignorance.  He said that what MAFS does really works for the community since they served more than 32,000 meals this year and more than 10,000 underprivileged people were served. He added when an immigrant senior comes to the US, they are lonely and the only place they can turn too is MAFS! What an honor for MAFS! Thank you, Congressman Rajakrishnamoorthi, for having faith in MAFS. Since MAFS serves the seniors of the community, he is happy to vote for the reauthorization of the Older Americans ACT, which provides nutritional assistance, support for caregivers as well as disease prevention. He urged everyone to support MAFS to sustain its program to better serve the community.

Next was a heartwarming narration by MAFS Participants Tripta Malhotra and Jayesh Desai, who very warmly narrated the impact MAFS played to better their lives. They specially thanked Dr. Santosh Kumar for assisting the seniors through her various centers. They consider MAFS centers as their second home. They said how much the programs like Yoga, Adult literacy programs, fresh and healthy meals program, congregating with other seniors and many more, have played an important and positive role to eliminate isolation and other problems the seniors combat especially during the Pandemic.

Richa Chand and Neil Khot periodically used their charm to nudge everyone to donate and thanks to them for their hard and persuasive work that encourage our donors to graciously support MAFS. KUDOS!!!

The Mahatma Gandhi Sesquicentennial medallion and MAFS colors were presented my Honorable Mr. Amit Kumar and Mrs Surabhi Amit Kumar along with Dr. Santosh Kumar. Milana Carse did a great job by announcing and introducing the recipients of the medallion.  Congratulations to state Rep. Michelle MUSSMAN, Sunil Shah – FIA Chicago Founder, Dr Sreenivas Reddy, Bur Ridge, State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, State Rep. Christina Castro, Dr. Amit Ray, Neurologist, State Rep. Laura Murphy, Neil Khot-Rely Services, IL,  Bishop Tavis Grant – Rainbow Push Coalition, Inc, Mayor of Hanover Park – Rodney Craig, Amar Uphadyay – Community Activist, Acharya Rohit Joshi, Treasurer of Chicago – Melissa Ervin, Shridar Damle – Author, Marta Pereyra- Clese.

Later Dr. Sreenivasan Reddy invited Honorable Consul General Mr. Amit Kumar to give a speech. In his speech, the Consul General congratulated MAFS and all the recipients. He praised Dr. Santosh Kumar for her commendable social service to the community like promoting mental health program and other beneficial public benefits programs. He wished MAFS success to grow and continue their estimable work. He also spoke about India’s progress regarding COVID vaccinations and other issues in India. Thank you, Honorable Consul General, for being a well-wisher and supporter of MAFS!

The highlight of the show was revealed when the video of the new MAFS 15th Senior Center on Devon Ave., was presented. It is narrated by our very own IT Director Mr. Prashant Kumar and CFO Mr. Sagar Kumar. In this video they narrate the evolution of the state of the art, 20,000 sq. ft center for seniors. It is truly an amazing jaw dropping video. The center is supposed to be up and rolling early November just in time for Diwali. All are invited to view this amazing piece of art exclusively designed for our seniors. Mr. Prashant Kumar and Mr. Sagar Kumar have dedicated this center to their parents and called it “The Pramod and Santosh Kumar Senior Center of Excellence!!! A must-see place, and surely, a future landmark of the Chicagoland area at 2522 West Devon Ave! To view this video please click on the link.

Next Mrs Surabhi Kumar (w/o Consul General of India) unveiled the MAFS souvenir book. The first recipient of this souvenir book was Mrs. Meghna Bansal, Trustee, Wheatland, Township. Mrs. Bansal congratulated MAFS for serving her mother-in-law who is a participant of MAFS. Dr. Asthana and Sagar Kumar were the other recipients of the souvenir. In her speech Mrs. Surabhi Kumar congratulated Dr. Santosh Kumar for her dedication and personal commitment to serve the seniors. She mentioned that she was touched when she witnessed the seniors of the MAFS sing the “Jana Gana Mana” with utmost reverence on the 75th Independence Day celebration of India. She concluded her speech assuring her support for MAFS and its future endeavors.

Secretary, Dr. Rakesh Asthana and his team got on to the stage to encourage the audience to donate. Donations kept coming in steadily. Job well done Dr. Rakesh Asthana! Next singer Ms. Pavithra Anand gave a teaser song that put the audience in a celebrating mood.

Following this, Dr. Firdaus Jafri, Consul General Mr. Amit Kumar, Dr. Santosh Kumar and Mrs. Sonal Patel presented the Pramod Kumar Philanthropy award to Mr. Sunil Singh – a community leader for the Washington D. C. area. The Community Service Award was presented to Ms. Gunjan Rastogi, an entrepreneur and community leader. The Partnership award was presented to Ms. Elizabeth Cagan – Executive Director of the White Crane Wellness Center. Pillar of MAFS award was presented to Jahnavi Bavisi. Coordinator of the Year was presented to Eugenie Favre. Health Research award was presented to Himali Bharucha. Outreach award was presented to Radhika Subramanian. Volunteer of the Year was presented to Girish Machhar. Cook of the year was presented to Jayshree Thakkar. Mr. Mahajan was presented the award too.

To conclude the program, Dr. Mrs Santosh Kumar, a true “Mother Theresa of Chicago” thanked one and all for their support to MAFS. The show concluded with the melodious entertainment by Pavithra Anand and Parth Patel. Their songs were so captivating that the whole staff danced to make this event a big success! GOD BLESS MAFS!

Bengali Association of Greater Chicago Celebrates Durga Puja Festival

The Bengali Association of Greater Chicago (BAGC) concluded its three-day Durga Puja Mahotsav on October 10th,2021. The celebrations started on October 8th and continued for three days that included Puja, Arati and Pushpanjali. BAGC is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting literature, art, music, and the rich religious and cultural heritage of the South Asian Indian community for the past 44 years.

In addition to three days of Puja and all its special features, they also had an array of cultural programs with some legendary artists from both the USA as well as from India. Last two years, BAGC through its strong tech committee has continued connecting with the community virtually due to the challenges posed by Covid-19 Pandemic through BAGC Live YouTube channel and BAGC Radio in showcasing its virtual events to the entire community across the globe.

This whole Celebration is all about Durga Maata Puja is done by Shree Rama (Akal Bodhan) before going to war with King Ravana. Normal 9 Days of Puja and Nava Ratri ends with Dusserah whan King Ravan was killed. BAGC Celebrated the 6th day till the 10th Day of Puja and ending with Ravan Dahan. BAGC Executive Committee of 2021 with all the Volunteers made this Large event most successful even under this Covid Pandemic.

Durga Puja is celebrated during Navaratri to honor goddess Durga culminating into Bijoya Dashami also known as Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera in other parts of India. Mahashasti was celebrated on Friday, October 8th with Puja, Pushpanjali in the Evening and cultural performances by local and external talents, which includes like curtain raiser (Jalo Pradeep Jalo), Musical Comedy Show (Kichu Haasi Kichu Gaan) and performance by a Chicago based band DhoomK2.

Mahasaptami and Mahashtami celebrated on Saturday, October 9th included morning and evening prayers along with a BAGC Youth Production on Environment Awareness (Sabuj Prithvi) in the evening followed by a musical retrospective to legendary Bengali Music Directors and a musical performance by Debarpan Dhar with his melodious voice. Mahanabami and Dashami, celebrated on Sunday,10th October, which is the conclusion day of the Puja Ceremony includes beautiful Bisharjon, Sindhur Khela and Dhanuchi Nach during the day and cultural program in the evening. The cultural program in the evening included drama “Tritiyo Nayan” by Chicago Natya Goshthi (CNG) and fusion dance “Rhythm of Fire ”.

BAGC President Jayanta Mukherjee along with the entire BAGC committee teams, and volunteers worked days and nights for the super successful Durga 2021 Puja celebration. The current committee led by Jayanta Mukherjee has been around for the last two years and working towards creating an all-inclusive participation from other communities as well as ethnicities. The three-day event also included two grand concerts at Hemmens Cultural Center, Elgin, Il with two celebrity vocalists and their teams. All three days had booth for free mandatory covid testing provided by Amita Labs and every attendee followed a mask mandate for all indoor events.

During the first concert, the fusion queen Vidya Vox along with Shankar Tucker and other team members created the musical magic with her refreshingly unique and contemporary voice. Vidya the gen z sensation who has over 7 million you tube subscribers and close to a billion views sang in a variety of languages including Rongobati her first Bengali song and kept the audience dancing during the entire show.

The master of the ceremony for the concert was Prachi Jaitly. The second show had a team of vocalists from India led by Music Legend Music Director Jatin Pandit. Jatin Pandit was accompanied by his son Raahul Jatin and other artists like Nauzad, Malancha, and Sonia Keshwani who also graced the event being the emcee. The team enthralled the audience with all the hit numbers of Bollywood. The auditorium was packed during both the concerts.

Jayanta Mukherjee, addressed the audience during the concert and briefed everyone about the BAGC and its initiatives. The executive committees received huge appreciation from everyone for working tirelessly for the last two years to keep the BAGC activities going amidst all the challenges. He also assured of his continuous contribution to the association in the upcoming years as well. Kudos to the Cultural Committee who proved once again that whatever be the adversities the show must not only go on but with the best performers in the world addressing the diverse demography of BAGC. The success of the event was also made possible by the generous sponsors and patrons. Media partners of the entire event were Asian Media USA and Asian Media Broadcasting.

India Revises Quarantine Guidelines For International Travelers

The Indian government’s guidelines that allow fully vaccinated international travelers from 11 countries — the UK, France, Germany, Nepal, Belarus, Lebanon, Armenia, Ukraine, Belgium, Hungary and Serbia — to forego home quarantine on arrival in India come into effect from today.

The guidelines released last week had said that travelers coming from a country with which India has reciprocal arrangements for mutual acceptance of WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccines would not have to self-isolate but would have to produce a negative RT-PCR test.

All airlines will have to check the test report before taking passengers on board.

Travelers coming from these countries who are fully vaccinated and 15 days have elapsed since completion of Covid vaccination schedule, shall be allowed to leave the airport and shall self monitor their health for 14 days post arrival, per the revised guidelines.

While planning for travel, all travelers should submit a self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal before the scheduled travel and upload a negative RT-PCR report. This test should have been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey, according to the guidelines.

Each passenger shall also submit a declaration with respect to the authenticity of the report and will be liable for criminal prosecution, if found otherwise.

Dr. Thomas Mathew Wins International Essay Competition

At an international essay competition jointly organized by Gandhi Study Circle America and e-Malayalee on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, Ranjith Koliadukkam from Kasaragod, Kerala won the first place and Jyothi Lakshmi Nambiar from Mumbai, Dr. Thomas Mathew from Las Vegas won second place, while Dr. Sindhu Binu in Dammam, Saudi Arabia bagged the third position.

The essay competition was on “Drug Free Kerala: The Mission of Political Parties”. Focana General Secretary Sajimon Anthony and World Malayalee Council Philadelphia Province Chairman Jose Attupuram were the main sponsors.

The judging panel, which included well known journalist, Deepika’s Associate Editor and Delhi Bureau Chief George Kallivayal chaired the judging committee, Ginsmon Zachariah, Editor-in-Chief of Jaihind News and Publisher of The Asian Era Weekly and Akshar Magazine,  Anita Panicker Kadambinthara, short story writer and vice president of Business Intelligence and Analytics, Nimmi Rose Das, choreographer, illustrator, nurse educator and nurse leader, Jose Thomas,  Mathematician and Springford Area Senior High School teacher and editor-in-chief of various publications and motivational trainer commented that the other essays received for the competition were of a high standard. Winners will be presented with cash awards and letters of commendation.

Ranjith Koliyadukkam, a native of Kasaragod, won the first place. He completed his postgraduate degree in Malayalam from Kerala Central University. He is a research student at Kerala Central University. He has won the Malayala Manorama Chief Editor’s Trophy and the MP Paul Research Award.

Second place winner Jyothi Lakshmi Nambiar is a native of Thayyur village in Thrissur district. After graduation,s he lives in the city of Mumbai with his family and work. “My Village” in Malayalamanorama Weekly; The article columns “Ezhuthappuram” written in e-Malayali were notable. In 2019, she won the “Popular Writer” award from E Malayalee Global Media Publishing.

Second-place finisher Thomas Mathew lives in Las Vegas. He is also a member of the editorial team and columnist for The UNN English News Portal. He has also been the Executive Editor of Jaihind News, Associate Editor of Malayalee Magazine and Express Herald. Thomas Mathew is the author of ‘Love Poem in the Bible’ and ‘American Sheep’.

The third place winner  Dr. Sindhu Binu is from Pala. She lives with his family in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. She has been a teacher at the Indian Embassy in Dammam for 14 years. Dammam has an active presence in the field of art, culture and politics.

How To Nurture Creativity In Your Kids

Parents who want their kids to be more creative may be tempted to enroll them in arts classes or splurge on STEM-themed toys. Those things certainly can help, but as a professor of educational psychology who has written extensively about creativity, I can draw on more than 70 years of creativity research to make additional suggestions that are more likely to be effective – and won’t break your budget.

Be Cautious With Rewards

Some parents may be tempted to reward their children for being creative, which is traditionally defined as producing something that is both new and useful. However, rewards and praise may actually dissuade your child’s intrinsic interest in being creative. That’s because the activity may become associated with the reward and not the fun the child naturally has doing it.

Of course, I am not saying you should not place your child’s artwork on your fridge. But avoid being too general – “I love every bit of it!” – or too focused on their innate traits – “You are so creative!” Instead, praise specific aspects that you like in your child’s artwork – “I love the way you made such a cute tail on that dog!” or “The way you combined colors here is pretty!”

Some rewards can be helpful. For example, for a child who loves to draw, giving them materials that they might use in their artwork is an example of a reward that will help them stay creative.

It is also important to note that there are many activities – creative or otherwise – for which a child may not have a particular interest. There is no harm – and much potential benefit – in using rewards in these cases. If a child has an assignment for a creative school activity and hates doing it, there may not be any inherent passion to be dampened in the first place.

Encourage Curiosity and New Experiences

Research shows that people who are open to new experiences and ideas are more creative than those who are more closed off. Many parents have children who naturally seek new things, such as food, activities, games or playmates. In these cases, simply continue to offer opportunities and encouragement.

For those whose children may be more reticent, there are options. Although personality is theoretically stable, it is possible to change it in subtle ways. For example, a study – although it was on older adults – found that crossword or sudoku puzzles can help increase openness. Childhood and adolescence is a natural period for openness to grow. Encouraging curiosity and intellectual engagement is one way. Other ways might include encouraging sensible risk-taking – such as trying a new sport for a less athletic child or a new instrument for one less musically inclined – or interest in other cultures. Even very simple variations on an evening routine, whether trying a new craft or board game or helping cook dinner, can help normalize novelty.

6 Coffee Habits That Help With Weight Loss

It’s safe to say that for some of us, coffee may be the one thing getting us through our busiest days of the week. And, for the most part, those daily cups can actually benefit our health as long as they’re consumed in moderate amounts.

We recently learned that there are certain unhealthy coffee habits that can lead to weight gain—like adding too much sugar or drinking on an empty stomach. But are there specific coffee habits that can help us lose weight?

We spoke with our medical board experts Laura Burak, MS, RD, author of Slimdown with Smoothies and founder of Laura Burak Nutrition, as well as Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, author of The First Time Mom’s Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility, to learn which coffee habits they believe can help you lose weight and stick to your health goals. Then, for more healthy eating tips, make sure to check out these Weight Loss Habits Dietitians Want You to Try Right Now.

1 Skip the table sugar.

According to Manaker, not putting sugar in your coffee is one of the easiest ways to help you meet your weight loss goals. The guidelines for how much sugar you should have in a day varies depending on your caloric intake, but the average suggested sugar intake is no more than 50 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet.

With that in mind, adding just one tablespoon of sugar to your coffee will give you about 12.5 grams of sugar, which is a pretty large chunk of your daily recommended levels in just one cup of coffee.

Eating too much added sugar over time can not only lead to weight gain, but can also increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. So if you’re wanting to skip the sugar but still want something a bit sweet, “try exploring some non-nutritive sweetener options like allulose or monk fruit,” says Manaker.

2 Drink your coffee black.

Adding tons of sugar to your coffee can negatively impact your weight loss goals, but so can adding too much coffee creamer, which is why both of our dietitians suggest drinking your coffee black if you can.

“Adding cream, half-and-half, and even whole milk in excess can add a significant amount of calories and fat to your coffee,” says Manaker.

Burak agrees, saying that “black coffee contains fewer than 5 calories per cup, but beware of the extras you may be adding that can contribute a significant amount of unnecessary calories and saturated fat to your diet, especially after several cups in one day.”

Speaking of creamers, this is The #1 Worst Coffee Creamer on Shelves.

3 Add a scoop of collagen peptides.

One of the major contributors to weight gain is overeating. The key to weight loss is to feel full by consuming healthy foods and drinks with enough protein and nutrients to keep you satisfied and not tempted to overeat on the not-so-healthy stuff.

“Adding collagen peptides is a great coffee habit for weight loss because it gives you a boost of protein, which may help support a feeling of satiety in the morning without affecting the taste of your coffee at all,” says Manaker.

Not only does research back this up, but one of our expert writers tried drinking collagen with her coffee for two weeks straight and reported feeling full from breakfast to lunch every day.

4 Don’t use coffee as a meal replacement.

Coffee may be a natural appetite suppressant, but Burak warns that it should never be used as a meal replacement or substitute for food.

“Coffee alone is not a meal or snack, but I often find clients still using a 3 p.m. cup of coffee as a way to skip a meal and save calories as it does temporarily suppress your appetite,” says Burak.

Unfortunately, this meal-skipping is not only harmful to your metabolism, but it may also lead to overeating later on in the day.

This is a delicate balance because according to Burak, drinking coffee with your meal can help give you a feeling of satiety or fullness, which can also help prevent you from overeating.

“It is also liquid which, like water, helps to keep your tank feeling full and therefore can assist you with eating a more appropriate amount of food if you’re looking to lose weight,” says Burak, “but the bottom line is, don’t skip meals and eat when you’re hungry!”

5 Opt for half-caff or caffeine-free coffee in the afternoon.

It may be tempting to reach for that cup of coffee around 3 or 4 p.m. when you’re starting to lose steam at work, but Manaker says this may not be the best for your health.

Caffeine can affect a person’s sleep, and drinking it close to bedtime can cause a person to miss out on their important rest,” says Manaker. “A lack of restful sleep is linked to weight gain, supporting healthy sleep habits by not drinking coffee in the afternoon or opting for a decaf cup can help you with your weight loss goals.”

Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Caffeine.

6 Get enough sleep.

If you want your coffee to help you with your weight loss goals, you may first want to make sure you’re naturally getting as much sleep as you need.

According to Burak, the energy boost you get from coffee can hide the fact that you aren’t getting enough sleep. Without adequate amounts of sleep, you may be more inclined to overeat, which might lead to weight gain.

“The caffeine in coffee acts as a stimulant, which can give you a temporary boost of energy and get your metabolism going throughout the day,” says Burak. “The key is to make sure you’re still focusing on getting quality sleep and not using coffee chronically for artificial energy.”

Millennials Love Their Gin &Tonic

Gin and Tonic is one such cocktail that has had the privilege to stand out among others, such as whisky and soda, rum and cola, and vodka and sprite. It is the one spirit that has earned the slang ‘G&T’. For those of us who are unfamiliar it is gin with ice, tonic water, and a squeeze of lime on top.

Gin and tonic is an iconic drink that was created in India, way back in early 19th century when India was ruled by the Britishers, they mixed gin with quinine, water, and sugar to prevent malaria. This turned out to not only be a medicinal drink but an extremely good combination yielding to a flavour-some cocktail. Tonic water was born as a soda drink with quinine, and the result the classic Gin & Tonic.

British palates grew accustomed to the combination of bitter, sweet, and a tinge of citrus. Gin and tonic took its position in the global cocktail world when the British returned to the UK. Today, across UK there are multiple gin bars with a lengthy list of options to explore.

When people travel, they often try new cuisine and drinks from various cultures. In the United Kingdom, G&T has become the drink of choice, and visitors to the nation find it everywhere. As a result, its popularity among young millennials has grown because of its delicious blended clarity with a 5-7 per cent alcoholic strength.

Although it appears to be a simple drink, it is quite easy to go wrong. The following are crucial measures to remember while making a perfect G&T:

* Gin — Choosing a good quality gin is an excellent. Tanqueray London Dry is a magnificent choice for a well-balanced cocktail. Tanqueray 10 is ideal for those seeking a citrus-forward spirit. And for those who enjoy botanical flavors, Gordon’s London dry gin is an excellent choice. Always measure your spirit to ensure that you know how much you’re drinking and how much tonic to add.

* Glass — It’s critical to have a glass that’s clean, unchipped, and cold. However, you may drink your gin and tonic in a copa or red wine glass if you can locate one. The copa, or red wine glass, can hold ice and has a stem to keep the drink cold for longer. While taking a drink, the design allows the scent to be focused on the nose.

* Ice — Preferred choice should be a quality ice with a shape and size that delays the dilution process (often round or square), and that is dry enough not to melt quickly. This may be fixed with a block of clear ice, which is devoid of gas and contaminants, melts slowly, and does not react with the fizz in tonic. As a result, it stays bubbly for a long time.

* Tonic Water — Chilled tonic water dissolves CO2 and keeps it effervescent for a long time. To avoid disturbing the fizz, it should be poured carefully from the glass’s wall. Maintain a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio (1 part gin to 3 or 4 parts of Tonic). If the ratio is not followed, the drink will likely taste spirit-forward or diluted, and both are going to ruin the experience.

* Lime — It is the most popular garnish. It should be squeezed over the drink to provide citrus flavor and freshness. Lime should be juicy, fresh and should not have been sliced the day before.

Some of the other most popular gin cocktails would be Negroni, Gibson, Gimlet, Martini, Tom Collins, Singapore Sling & Bees’ Knees. Gin based cocktails hold great standard and class in a bar. The Martini right from its inception had been a signature cocktail for celebrities. Negroni had been extremely popular with elite get-togethers.

Anita Anand Appointed Canada’s Defense Minister

Indian-origin Canadian politician Anita Anand was appointed as the country’s new Defence Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on October 26th, over a month after his Liberal Party returned to power in the snap polls and amid calls for major military reforms.

Anand, 54, will replace long-time defense minister Indian-origin Harjit Sajjan, whose handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis has been under criticism.

Sajjan has been appointed as Minister of International Development Agency, a report in the National Post newspaper said. The new Cabinet maintains gender balance and has 38 members, up one person from before the election, it said.

According to a report in Global News, Anand has been touted as a strong contender for weeks among defence industry experts who said that moving her into the role would send a powerful signal to survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct that the government is serious about implementing major reforms.

The Canadian military is facing intense public and political pressure to change its culture and create better systems for both preventing and handling sexual misconduct allegations, it said.

Anand has a deep background as a corporate lawyer and has worked extensively on corporate governance, which refers specifically to the laws and rules in place to manage the operations of businesses, the report said.

Anand, along with Sajjan and Bardish Chagger were the three Indo-Canadian ministers in the dissolved Cabinet who emerged victorious in the parliamentary polls last month.

Anand was declared the winner in Oakville with a nearly 46 per cent vote share; a significant development for Canada’s vaccine minister.

She was first elected as a rookie Member of Parliament in 2019 representing Oakville in Ontario province and served as procurement minister throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She quickly became in charge of the country’s efforts to secure COVID-19 vaccines and was often on the campaign trail with Trudeau.

In her role as former Minister of Public Services and Procurement, she played a very public role in the Liberal response to the health crisis. “I’m just ecstatic, she had said after her win, thanking the volunteers who had worked extremely hard as a team for five weeks straight, she was quoted as saying by the Oakville News.

World’s Largest Ferris Wheel Opened In Dubai

The world’s biggest and tallest Ferris wheel opened to the public last week  in Dubai. Located on Bluewaters Island and offering views of the Dubai skyline, the Ain Dubai stands at around 820 feet tall and required around 11,200 tons of steel to build, according to their website.

To put that into perspective, the London Eye — one of the largest observation wheels in the world and one of the most well-known — is only around 440 feet tall. The High Roller in Las Vegas, which had held the title of tallest Ferris wheel in the world for nearly a decade, is around 550 feet tall.

The Ain Dubai also takes the cake when it comes to record number of passengers able to ride at the same time, with its seating capacity sitting at 1,750 (the High Rollers’ is 1,120) and each (mercifully air-conditioned cabin) able to hold a max of 40 riders. But a ride on this wheel won’t be as quick as say, a spin at your local county fair; one full rotation on the Ain Dubai takes around 38 minutes. Luckily, food and beverages from concession stands on the ground are allowed for the ride, including drinks from the bar.

During the opening night events on Thursday and Friday, the wheel was lit up at night and visitors were treated to a fireworks show, according to a press release.

It’s a celebration that was reportedly a long time coming. Officials in Dubai first gave developers the greenlight to build the record-breaking ride in 2013, as part of a larger project to increase tourism in the area, The Telegraph reports.

After a series of delays, the wheel was originally slated to make its debut last year, but organizers had to revise those plans due to COVID-19, according to another Ain Dubai website

India’s SC Orders Independent Probe Into Pegasus

Ruling that the Indian government does not get a free pass every time the specter of national security is raised, the Supreme Court appointed a committee on October 27, 2021 comprising three technical members and supervised by its retired judge Justice R V Ravendran to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of use of Pegasus software for unauthorized surveillance.

Justice Ravendran will be assisted in this task by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch) and Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee). The three technical members of the committee are Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Prabaharan P, Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said the committee will “enquire, investigate and determine:”

  • whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes not explicitly stated herein;
  • The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack;
  • What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent-Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware;
  • Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India;
  • If any governmental agency has used the Pegasus suite of spyware on the citizens of this country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made;
  • If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised;
  • Any other matter or aspect which may be connected, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the Committee may deem fit and proper to investigate.

The committee has been asked  make recommendations on:

  • Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy;
  • Regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets;
  • To ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with law, by State and/or non ­State entities through such spywares;
  • Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices;
  • Regarding the setting up of a well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country;
  • Regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament;
  • On any other ancillary matter that the Committee may deem fit and proper.

The ruling came on a batch of 12 petitions which sought an independent probe into the allegations which surfaced in the media about the unauthorized surveillance.

Record Rainfall Drenches East To West Coasts In US

A powerful storm that swept through California this week has set rainfall records and helped douse wildfires. But it remained to be seen how much of a dent it made in the state’s drought., causing mudslides that closed roads in the San Bernardino Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

In the northern part of the state, drenching rains caused widespread flooding and rock slides over the weekend. Strong winds knocked down trees and even toppled two big rigs on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco. Pacific Gas & Electric reported that 380,000 homes and businesses lost power, though most had it back Monday.

Despite the problems, the rain and mountain snow were welcome in Northern California, which is so dry that nearly all of it is classified as either experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. The wet weather also greatly reduces the chances of additional wildfires in a region that has borne the brunt of another devastating year of blazes in the state.

The National Weather Service called preliminary rainfall totals “staggering,” including 11 inches (28 centimeters) at the base of Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais and 4 inches (10 centimeters) in downtown San Francisco, the fourth-wettest day ever for the city.

“It’s been a memorable past 24 hours for the Bay Area as the long talked-about atmospheric river rolled through the region,” the local weather office said Monday. “We literally have gone from fire/drought conditions to flooding in one storm cycle.”

A rainfall record was shattered in Sacramento. Northeast of San Francisco, 5.44 inches (13.82 centimeters) fell on downtown Sacramento, shattering the one-day record for rainfall that had stood since 1880.

Interstate 80, the major highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Reno, Nevada, was shut down by heavy snow early Monday. In California’s Colusa and Yolo counties, state highways 16 and 20 were shut for several miles because of mudslides, the state Department of Transportation said.

The same storm system also slammed Oregon and Washington state, causing power outages that affected tens of thousands of people. Two people were killed when a tree fell on a vehicle in the greater Seattle area.

Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said the rain was a huge relief after the Caldor Fire torched an unknown number of the giant trees in the park, along with thousands of pines and cedars. “This amount of rainfall is what we call a season-ending event,” Brigham said. “It should end fire season, and it should end our need — to a large degree — to fight this fire.”

The impact of the nor’easter was centered across the entire New England region.  A storm offshore of the Mid-Atlantic explosively intensified Monday night, and enveloped the Northeast with strong winds and flooding rains as it comes up the coast. Flash flood watches are up from northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania into most of southern New England. Up to five inches of rain are possible, falling on soils that are largely saturated following an exceptionally wet summer. Parts of New Jersey have already seen more than 4 inches, with rainfall rates topping an inch per hour.

“We know how quickly these storms can escalate, so everyone, especially those living in basement apartments, should plan accordingly,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) tweeted Monday.

Wind advisories also stretch from the nation’s capital to the coastline of Maine, with a high-wind warning up for the shorelines of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where gusts could top 70 mph. The nor’easter is the first of two sprawling storm systems that will bring inclement weather to the East Coast this week. Its rate of intensification is expected to qualify it as a “bomb cyclone,” or a storm that strengthens with unusual haste. High water rescues, numerous road closures and rising rivers have been reported in the region, the weather service said, including rescues reported in New Jersey’s northern Monmouth County.

A state of emergency was declared in New Jersey and New York on Monday due to the anticipated storm hazards. New York City issued a travel advisory through Wednesday morning, advising commuters to allow extra travel time and use mass transit.

The Golden Temple Goes Solar Powered

With the financial assistance of the US-based United Sikh Mission, a 525 KW capacity solar power plant was commissioned in the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar on Tuesday.

“Our mission is to ensure clean power supply round the clock at Sri Darbar Sahib, saving 33 per cent of its annual electricity bill,” United Sikh Mission President Rashpal Singh Dhindsa told the media here.

He said this was an effort towards sustainability and reducing global warming that would help save 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02) emission.

The work was completed in five months. Expressing gratitude to the United Sikh Mission, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee President Bibi Jagir Kaur said that a 78 KW solar power plant would be installed soon in Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh and 700 KW in Gurdwara Bir Baba Budha Sahib.

Noting that the monthly electricity budget of Darbar Sahib is around Rs 50-60 lakh, she urged the global Sikh community to contribute towards the initiative of empowering Darbar Sahib with renewable energy.

The Golden Temple Amritsar India (Sri Harimandir Sahib Amritsar) is not only a central religious place of the Sikhs, but also a symbol of human brotherhood and equality. Everybody, irrespective of cast, creed or race can seek spiritual solace and religious fulfilment without any hindrance. It also represents the distinct identity, glory and heritage of the Sikhs.

As advised by Sri Guru Amar Dass Ji (3rd Sikh Guru), Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji (4th Sikh Guru) started the digging of Amrit Sarovar (Holy Tank) of Sri Harmandir Sahib in 1577 A.D., which was later on brick-lined by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji (5th Sikh Guru) on December 15, 1588 and He also started the construction of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (scripture of the Sikhs), after its compilation, was first installed at Sri Harmandir Sahib on August 16, 1604 A.D. A devout Sikh, Baba Budha Ji was appointed its first Head Priest.

Sri Harmandir Sahib, also known as Sri Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple, (on account of its scenic beauty and golden coating for English speaking world), is named after Hari (God) the temple of God. The Sikhs all over the world, daily wish to pay visit to Sri Amritsar and to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandir Sahib in their Ardas.

Guru Arjan Sahib, the Fifth Nanak, conceived the idea of creating a central place of worship for the Sikhs and he himself designed the architecture of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Earlier the planning to excavate the holy tank (Amritsar or Amrit Sarovar) was chalked out by Guru Amardas Sahib, the Third Nanak, but it was executed by Guru Ramdas Sahib under the supervision of Baba Budha ji. The land for the site was acquired by the earlier Guru Sahibs on payment or free of cost from the Zamindars (landlords) of native villages. The plan to establish a town settlement was also made. Therefore, the construction work on the Sarovar (the tank) and the town started simultaneously in 1570. The work on both projects completed in 1577 A.D.

The shrine has a unique Sikh architecture. Built at a level lower than the surrounding land level, The Gurudwara teaches the lesson of egalitarianism and humility. The four entrances of this holy shrine from all four directions, signify that people belonging to every walk of life are equally welcome.

Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn Urge US To Waive Sanctions Against India

Two US Senators have urged President Joe Biden to waive Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia.

US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn sent a letter to President Biden encouraging him to waive CAATSA sanctions against India. India signed a $5.43-billion deal with Russia for the purchase of five S-400 surface to air missile systems during the 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit in New Delhi on October 5, 2019, for long-term security needs.

Washington had indicated that the Russian S-400 systems may trigger CAATSA sanctions.

“While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defence systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the CAATSA, which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behaviour,” the letter read.

The Senators said that while they shared the administration’s concern regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, such transactions between New Delhi and Moscow were declining.

“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions,” they wrote.

“We share your concerns regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, even with these declining sales. We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment,” the senators added.

The History Of US Presidential Visits To The Vatican

On Friday (Oct. 29), Pope Francis is set to hold a highly anticipated private audience with President Joe Biden at the Vatican. It will be the first in-person meeting between the pontiff and the Catholic head of state since Biden’s election.

Biden is the 14th U.S. president to meet a pontiff at the Vatican, and the Eternal City is bubbling with speculation over what the two are likely to discuss. The meeting is expected to be cordial, focusing on what the two have in common, but historically the relationship between the Vatican and the Oval Office has often been tense — even occasionally hostile.

From public reprimands to diplomatic faux pas, Religion News Service takes a look back at the history of meetings between popes and U.S. presidents.

More than a hundred years ago, on Jan. 4, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson became the first American head of state to meet with a pope at the Vatican, during a European tour in the aftermath of World War I, which had left the continent in shambles and rife with tensions.

The pontiff at the time, Pope Benedict XV, had spoken fervently against war and in 1917 wrote a letter “to the Heads of State of the Belligerent Peoples,” which outlined a plan for peace and reconstruction for Europe and beyond. In January of 1918, Wilson pronounced his 14 points for the establishment of a new postwar world. Some observers at the time suggested Wilson felt as if the frail Italian pontiff had stolen his thunder by releasing his vision first.

The first encounter between a U.S. president and a pope was also a meeting of two global visions for peace, at times opposing and sometimes aligned. The evolving contours of these visions would go on to define the relationship for a century.

Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII: ‘That was a beaut!’

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII met at the Vatican in December 1959. John XXIII, known as “the good pope” for his affable and gregarious attitude, tried to learn a few words in English to put the president at ease. Despite his efforts, the elderly pope stumbled through his English and at the end of the speech ironically quipped “that was a beaut!” in Italian. The president, accompanied by his family, burst out laughing along with everyone present, blessing the papal annals with some rather playful pictures of the historic event.

Kennedy and Pope Paul VI: To kiss the ring or to not kiss the ring?

The first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy faced significant scrutiny back home for how he would handle his July 1963 meeting with Pope Paul VI. Anti-Catholic sentiment remained strong in the U.S., and even before his visit, cartoons popped up showing Kennedy bowing to the pope in Rome. The media at the time questioned whether the U.S. president would follow Catholic protocol and bow to kiss the pope’s ring.

Instead, Kennedy and Pope Paul VI exchanged a firm handshake during their meeting and spoke in English. Five months after the visit, Kennedy was fatally shot. People close to the pope said he “wept uncontrollably” at the news and later publicly condemned Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson and Pope Paul VI: American egos and Vietnam

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to the Vatican on Dec. 23, 1967, came as the Catholic Church prepared to celebrate Christmas, but according to witnesses, it was less than jolly. Paul VI made his objection to the Vietnam War heard during the meeting, with some claiming he slammed his fist on the table in anger. Johnson made sure to leave a lasting impression — literally — gifting the pope a bronze bust of himself.

Nixon and Pope Paul VI: From amicable to acrimonious

President Richard Nixon met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican twice. The first time, in March 1969, the two discussed the ongoing war in Vietnam and the possibility for peace. Nixon praised the pope for his words, stating they were “a source of profound inspiration” and promising to make do on his peace-building efforts.

When they met again on Sept. 28, 1970, as the Vietnam War continued to escalate, the encounter was “less than pleasant, even acrimonious,” according to Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography of Pope Paul VI.

Ford and Pope Paul VI: A divided Europe, a divided world

With Europe increasingly divided by the Cold War, the meeting between President Gerald Ford and Pope Paul VI focused on how to promote unity. The two met at the Vatican on June 3, 1975. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was also in attendance.

During the brief encounter, the pope encouraged the U.S. to leverage its now established position of leadership for unity. They also addressed the rising tension between Israel and Egypt, with the pope promoting a “peaceful coexistence” between Christians and Muslims. The Middle East would increasingly became a point of contention in U.S.-Vatican diplomacy.

Carter and Pope John Paul II: Bookish alliances

In 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit the White House. A year later, on June 21, 1980, he met with President Jimmy Carter in the papal library at the Vatican.

During the meeting, Carter condemned the Soviet Union’s expansion in the Middle East, especially its invasion of Afghanistan. John Paul II directed the president’s attention to finding a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

At the end of the meeting, the pope gifted Carter with a leather-bound copy of the Bible for the president to read. Seeing that the text was in Latin, Carter jokingly told the pope, “It would be easier for you than me!”

Reagan and Pope John Paul II: The ‘bromance’ that defeated communism

A number of books and films have been made documenting the synergy between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, a relationship many argue contributed to the defeat of communism and the Soviet Union. The two met twice at the Vatican and twice in the United States.

When Reagan and John Paul II met for the first time at the Vatican on June 7, 1982, they already had much in common. In 1981, they both survived assassination attempts, and they viewed their meeting as a divine sign that they had a purpose to fulfill. “God saved us both,” John Paul II reportedly said, “so that we can do what we are about to do. How else can it be explained?”

The meeting, which lasted 50 minutes, marked the first time a pope and a president spoke alone behind closed doors. The two had exchanged a flurry of letters in the months leading up to the meeting, addressing the future of Europe and an end to the escalating nuclear tensions.

For the next six years, the Reagan and John Paul II partnership reshaped Europe amid the tumult of the Cold War, revealing the potential of a union between two global and moral superpowers. Two years after the meeting, the Holy See and the United States established official diplomatic relations.

H.W. Bush and Pope John Paul II: Failing papal appeals for peace

President George H.W. Bush met with Pope John Paul II twice at the Vatican — in 1989 and 1991 — but both times the shadow of war hung over the encounters. John Paul II’s appeals for peace had become louder after the U.S. engaged in the First Gulf War, which the pope had described as “an adventure with no turning back.”

“The dignity of America,” the pope said before the cameras at their second Vatican meeting, “the reason she exists, the condition for her survival; yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

Clinton and Pope John Paul II: Roast beef and culture wars

President Bill Clinton met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on June 2, 1994. The two had met three times before in the United States, where the contentious question of abortion hung over the meetings. The pope called on the “responsibility of the great American nation, which always upheld the ethical values at the base of every society.” Clinton gifted the pope artwork representing an olive branch, promising “joint efforts to promote the central role of the family in society.”

Bush, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI: Failure to launch

No president has visited the Vatican more often than President George W. Bush, who made four trips to the Eternal City, plus a fifth meeting with the pope just outside Rome.

On May 28, 2002, Bush had his first encounter with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, just months after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The pope failed in convincing Bush to halt the U.S. invasion in Iraq and chastised the war in a following meeting in June 2004.

Despite the tensions, Bush praised the pope and said “being in his presence is an awesome experience.” On their last meeting at the Vatican, Bush awarded Pope John Paul II the Medal of Freedom.

Bush also met with Pope John Paul II’s successor, Benedict XVI, at the Vatican in both 2007 and 2009. Their conversations centered mostly on tensions in the Middle East, and their differing views on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overshadowed common agreement on abortion.

Obama and Pope Benedict XVI: Lessons on star quality and bioethics

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on March 27, 2014, lasted roughly 40 minutes. As cameras flashed furiously before them, Obama told the pope, “Your holiness, I’m sure you’re used to having your picture taken,” adding that he was “getting used to it.”

To underline his opposition to abortion and contraception, Benedict XVI gifted Obama with a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict once headed, on bioethics titled “Dignitatis Personae” or “The Dignity of Persons.”

The two met again in March 2014, where they discussed “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,” according to the official Vatican statement on the meeting.

Trump and Pope Francis: The walls, the bridges and the frown

Tensions had already formed before Pope Francis and President Donald Trump met at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. Only a year before, the bridge-building pope had seemed to criticize Trump’s intentions to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, stating “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump pushed back against the papal jab on Twitter, describing the pontiff’s remarks as “disgraceful.” The Vatican meeting culminated with a photo capturing one of the pope’s most infamous frowns.

After the short meeting, the mood seemed to lighten slightly, with Trump thanking the pope and telling him, “I won’t forget what you said.” Pope Francis gifted the president a copy of his “green” encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.” But in 2020, Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreements.

Biden Is Confident As $2T Plan Edges Closer To Deal

A deal within reach, President Joe Biden and Congress’ top Democrats edged close to sealing their giant domestic legislation, as they worked to scale back the measure and determine how to pay for it. The bill, which was originally proposed at a $3.5 trillion figure and contained funding for paid family leave, education and climate programs, has been paired with a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which received widespread bipartisan support when it passed the Senate earlier this summer.

“I do think I’ll get a deal,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday night during a Town Hall Meeting, strongly signaling his belief that progressives and moderates, two wings of the Democratic caucus that have been at odds with one another, are reaching an accord on the Build Back Better bill, a sweeping bill that aims to expand the social safety net.

Biden’s town hall capped off what has been the most momentous week of negotiation in months, with the president acquiescing to losing some key programs from his initial $3.5 trillion wish list, in order to meet those moderates calling for less government spending. The acknowledgement of the concessions could send a signal to Democrats that a deal on the package, which has been whittled from Biden’s $3.5 trillion wish list to just under $2 trillion, is imminent.

The two pieces of legislation crucial to Biden’s agenda have been stalled as moderates and progressives have haggled over the price tag of the Build Back Better bill — which requires no Republican support thanks to the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — and the order in which both bills would be passed.

“We’re down to four or five issues,” Biden said of the ongoing negotiations, but did not detail what those issues are. “I think we can get there. It’s all about compromise,” Biden said, adding: “Compromise has become a dirty word, but … bipartisanship and compromise still has to be possible.”

In order to reach an accord, the size of the sweeping 10-year spending plan has been whittled down to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion, and President Biden laid out Thursday evening what’s in it — and, importantly, what’s not. For instance, the paid leave provision has been reduced to four weeks from the originally proposed 12 weeks. “It is down to four weeks,” Biden confirmed. “The reason it’s down to four weeks is I can’t get 12 weeks.”

Biden also noted that it might be a “reach” to include dental and vision coverage in Medicare, a progressive priority opposed by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the key centrist senators in the caucus. Though Biden detailed Manchin’s opposition to a number of the bill’s programs, including that he “has indicated that they will not support free community college,” another of the bill’s provisions, the president called him “a friend.”

“Joe is not a bad guy,” Biden said. “He is a friend. He has always at the end of the day come around and voted.” Biden noted that “one other person” indicated they would not support the free community college provision, and said that Democrats are looking into expanding Pell grants to help bridge the gap. “It’s not going to get us the whole thing,” Biden said, but noted that he would be forging ahead with his free college education plans in the coming months.

“I’m gonna get it done,” Biden pledged. “And if I don’t, I’m going to be sleeping alone for a long time,” referring to his wife, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, an educator and staunch education advocate. Of fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Biden also had kind words – “She’s as smart as the devil” – praising her support for some of the bill’s economic proposals.

He did, however, note that Sinema is “not supportive where she says she won’t raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and on wealthy people.” Biden said that in an evenly divided Senate, every senator’s vote is crucial: “Look, in the United States Senate, when you have 50 Democrats, every one is the president.”

President Biden noted the importance of combatting climate change, calling it “the existential threat to humanity” and pledging that he will debut his plans to get to “net zero emissions” at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the month.

Biden touted the fact that on his first day in office, he rejoined the Paris climate accord, and said that he is “presenting a commitment to the world that we will in fact get to net zero emissions on electric power by 2035 and net zero emissions across the board by 2050 or before.” “But we have to do so much between now and 2030 to demonstrate what we’re going to do,” he pledged. The president also said that corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. The U.S., Biden said, is “in a circumstance where corporate America is not paying their fair share.”

“I come from the corporate state of the world: Delaware,” Biden said. “More corporations in Delaware than every other state in the union combined. Okay? Now, here’s the deal, though. You have 55 corporations, for example, in the United States of America making over $40 billion, don’t pay a cent. Not a single little red cent. Now, I don’t care — I’m a capitalist. I hope you can be a millionaire or billionaire. But at least pay your fair share. Chip in a little bit.”

Bided added that corporate leaders know “they should be paying a little more” in taxes. “They know they should be paying a little more than 21% because the idea that if you’re a school teacher and a firefighter you’re paying at a higher tax rate than they are as a percentage of your taxes.”

Biden met at the White House on Friday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined by video call from from New York, trying to shore up details. The leaders have been working with party moderates and progressives to shrink the once-$3.5 trillion, 10-year package to around $2 trillion in child care, health care and clean energy programs.

Pelosi said a deal was “very possible.” She told reporters back at the Capitol that more than 90% of the package was agreed to: The climate change components of the bill “are resolved,” but outstanding questions remained on health care provisions.

No agreement was announced by Friday’s self-imposed deadline to at least agree on a basic outline. Biden wants a deal before he leaves next week for global summits in Europe. Pelosi hoped the House could start voting as soon as next week, but no schedule was set.

Sticking points appear to include proposed corporate tax hikes to help finance the plan and an effort to lower prescription drug costs that has raised concerns from the pharmaceutical industry. Democrats are in search of a broad compromise between the party’s progressives and moderates on the measure’s price tag, revenue sources and basic components.

At the White House, the president has “rolled up his sleeves and is deep in the details of spreadsheets and numbers,” press secretary Jen Psaki said. Vice President Kamala Harris sounded even more certain. On a visit to New York City, she said tensions often rise over final details but “I am confident, frankly — not only optimistic, but I am confident that we will reach a deal.”

India Vaccinates One Billion People Against Covid

Reaching a milestone, in India’s efforts to vaccinate all, 1 Billion (100 crore) jabs milestone shows the power of India’s collective effort, reports here suggest. India completed the administration of 100 crore doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on October 21, 2021, in just about nine months since the start of the vaccination drive.

PM Narendra Modi tweeted: “The journey from anxiety to assurance has happened and our nation has emerged stronger, thanks to the world’s largest vaccination drive.”

Observing that India has achieved a “difficult but extraordinary” target of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday cautioned people to remain vigilant and not become careless, and urged them to continue wearing masks, saying that weapons are not thrown away while the battle is on.

Addressing the nation, the Prime Minister said, “Yesterday, on October 21, India has achieved the difficult but extraordinary target of 1 billion – 100 crore – vaccine doses. Behind this achievement is the power (kartavyashakti) of 130 crore countrymen; so this success is the success of India, the success of every countryman.”

This has been a tremendous journey in dealing with Covid-19, especially in comparison with  how things stood in early 2020. Humanity was dealing with such a pandemic after 100 years and no one knew much about the virus. We remember how unpredictable the situation appeared then, as we were faced with an unknown and invisible enemy mutating rapidly.

“When the biggest pandemic of 100 years came, questions started arising about India. Will India be able to fight this global pandemic? From where will India get the money to buy so many vaccines from other countries? When will India get the vaccine? Will the people of India get the vaccine or not? Will India be able to vaccinate enough people to stop the pandemic from spreading? There were various questions, but today the 100-crore vaccine doses are answering every question,” the Prime Minister said.

Describing the achievement of 100-crore vaccine doses as a new chapter in India’s history, Modi said, “The country started the campaign of ‘Free vaccine, vaccine for everyone’, by taking everyone along… There was only one mantra that if the disease does not discriminate, then there cannot be any discrimination in the vaccination. Therefore, it was ensured that the VIP culture did not dominate the vaccination campaign.”

It has been a truly bhagirath effort involving multiple sections of society. To get a sense of the scale, assume that each vaccination took just two minutes for a healthcare worker. At this rate, it took around 41 lakh man-days or approximately 11,000 man-years of effort to reach this landmark.

For any effort to attain and sustain speed and scale, the trust of all stakeholders is crucial. One of the reasons for the success of the campaign was the trust that people developed in the vaccine and the process followed, despite various efforts to create mistrust and panic.

There are some among us who only trust foreign brands, even for simple everyday necessities. However, when it came to something as crucial as the Covid-19 vaccine, the people of India unanimously trusted “Made in India” vaccines. This is a significant paradigm shift.

The vaccine drive is an example of what India can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal in the spirit of Jan Bhagidari. When India started its vaccination programme, there were many people who doubted the capabilities of 130 crore Indians. Some said India would take three to four years. Some others said people will not come forward to get vaccinated. There were those who said there will be gross mismanagement and chaos in the vaccination process. Some even said that India will not be able to manage supply chains. But just like the Janata Curfew and subsequent lockdowns, the people of India showed how spectacular the results can be, if they are made trusted partners.

In early 2020, when Covid-19 was rampaging across the world, it was clear to us that this pandemic will have to be eventually fought with the help of vaccines. We started preparing early. We constituted expert groups and started preparing a roadmap right from April 2020.

Till today, only a handful of countries have developed their own vaccines. More than 180 countries are dependent on an extremely limited pool of producers and dozens of nations are still waiting for the supply of vaccines, even as India has crossed 100 crore doses.

I am optimistic that the success achieved in the world’s largest vaccination drive will further spur our youth, our innovators and all levels of government to set new benchmarks of public service delivery, which will be a model not only for our country, but also for the world.”

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) illuminated 100 monuments with tri-color across the country as India achieved the landmark milestone of administrating 100 crore COVID vaccinations. The world is witnessing the largest and fastest vaccination drive in India against the pandemic. ASI gesture was a mark of respect and gratitude towards corona warriors who have contributed relentlessly in the fight against the pandemic.

CDC While Approving Moderna, J & J Boosters, Allows Mix & Match

Millions of Americans are now eligible for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots and also they that they can choose a different company’s vaccine for that next shot, after the nation’s top public health official endorsed recommendations from expert advisers that the shots are safe and effective at bolstering protection against the coronavirus.

Certain people who received Pfizer vaccinations months ago already are eligible for a booster and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says specific Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients qualify, too. And in a bigger change, the agency is allowing the flexibility of “mixing and matching” that extra dose regardless of which type people received first.

The green light on October 20th from Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, means that eligible Americans at risk of severe disease can choose any of the three boosters now authorized in the United States regardless of their original shot.

“The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe — as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” Walensky said in a statement Thursday night, several hours after receiving unanimous recommendations from the expert panel, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. “And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating delta variant.”

Walensky’s action — following authorization from federal regulators — largely fulfills the administration’s August pledge to make boosters of all three vaccines available to Americans, albeit a month later than promised and for a smaller group. The administration’s focus on boosters came as the highly contagious delta variant sickened millions and killed tens of thousands, and also reflected concern about waning immunity from the vaccines.

CDC’s sign-off on the additional boosters as well as the flexibility to mix and match the shots gives greater leeway to consumers, as well as to clinicians and pharmacies administering them to vulnerable populations. Health officials have repeatedly sought ways to make it easier for people to get a booster dose, especially those who have had side effects from one brand, or who worry about risks associated with a particular shot.

The availability of boosters will be particularly welcome to the 15 million recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, many of whom have been particularly fearful of breakthrough infections given that shot’s lower level of protection compared with the messenger RNA vaccines.

“I agree that those who received a [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine should receive a second dose — I would prefer that those individuals get an mRNA vaccine” rather than a second Johnson & Johnson shot, said advisory panel member Pablo J. Sanchez, a pediatrician at Ohio State University.

Interchangeability of shots is also likely to speed booster vaccination in nursing homes and other institutional settings where residents received different shots during the early rollout. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster is already in use since it was authorized and recommended last month.

“I think the opportunity for these [mix and match] boosts [is] priceless,” said Helen Keipp Talbot, an infectious-disease doctor at Vanderbilt University and panel member.

The CDC plans to release guidance early next week with more detailed information about who might benefit from choosing one booster over another, as the panel requested. CDC advisers and agency officials are still working out whether to recommend that some people stick to their original vaccine if possible.

“A really important aspect of all of this is being clear and not dancing on the head of a pin so that we don’t confuse the American people,” said Beth Bell, a global health professor at the University of Washington.

The advisory panel’s recommendation was similar to Wednesday’s action by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA did not take a position on whether people should stay with the original vaccine or switch to another one, saying it did not have the data to make such judgments.

The FDA has authorized a third shot of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone 65 and older, or any adults at high risk of severe illness because of underlying conditions, job exposure or because they are in institutional settings, and who have gone at least six months since their second dose.

It broadened eligibility much further for those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to anyone 18 and older who has gone at least two months since getting the shot — criteria reflecting the lower protection afforded by that vaccine compared with the others.

Advisers to the CDC suggested in their all-day meeting Thursday that mixing and matching booster shots may appeal to consumers concerned about possible risks associated with their first vaccine.

“A lot of what our efforts are centered around is trying to mitigate risk as much as possible, both from disease as well as vaccination,” said Grace Lee, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the panel.

More data on the safety of booster shots for specific groups may help determine “whether or not a different boost would be appropriate, for example, for young women” who first received Johnson & Johnson, Lee added.

Some panel members questioned the wisdom of administering a second Johnson & Johnson shot to women of childbearing age, for instance, because of rare but serious risk of blood clots associated with that vaccine. Analyses of data for those who have received that shot suggest an increased risk of a rare type of clot, especially for women 18 to 49 years old.

About 105 million fully vaccinated people have received the two-shot Pfizer series, according to the CDC. About 70 million fully vaccinated people have received the Moderna shots. Only 15 million Americans were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson shots, which arrived later and were delayed by an investigation of a rare adverse event, as well as a manufacturing problem. More than 11 million people have received a booster or an additional dose of a vaccine to date.

There still are restrictions on who qualifies and when for a booster. Starting six months past their last Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, people are urged to get a booster if they’re 65 or older, nursing home residents, or at least 50 and at increased risk of severe disease because of health problems. Boosters also were allowed, but not urged, for adults of any age at increased risk of infection because of health problems or their jobs or living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters. Moderna’s booster will come at half the dose of the original two shots.

As for recipients of the single-shot J&J vaccine, a COVID-19 booster is recommended for everyone at least two months after their vaccination. That’s because the J&J vaccine hasn’t proved as protective as the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer options.

About two-thirds of Americans eligible for COVID-19 shots are fully vaccinated, and the government says getting first shots to the unvaccinated remain the priority. While health authorities hope boosters will shore up waning immunity against milder coronavirus infections, all the vaccines still offer strong protection against hospitalizations and death, even as the extra-contagious delta variant burned through the country.

House Holds Trump Ally Steve Bannon In Contempt

The US House of Representatives voted to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The vote was 229-202.

Nine Republicans voted with all 220 Democrats to pass the resolution: House Select Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Nancy Mace, Fred Upton, Peter Meijer, John Katko, Brian Fitzpatrick, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, and Jaime Herrera Beutler. Rep. Greg Pence — the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the electoral vote count on January 6 — did not vote.

In a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, led the floor debate along with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel. Still, the vote Thursday was 229-202 with all but nine GOP lawmakers who voted saying “no.”

The House vote sends the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. It’s still uncertain whether they will pursue the case — Attorney General Merrick Garland would only say at a House hearing on Thursday that they plan to “make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution.”

The partisan split over Bannon’s subpoena — and over the committee’s investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.

Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump’s supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden’s November victory. Lawmakers on the panel say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe.

“We will not allow anyone to derail our work, because our work is too important,” Thompson said ahead of the vote.  Republicans call it a “witch hunt,” say it is a waste of time and argue that Congress should be focusing on more important matters.

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, leading the GOP opposition on the floor, called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Bannon is a “Democrat party boogeyman.”

Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, and both have openly criticized Trump and his role in fomenting the insurrection while the majority of House Republicans have remained silent in the face of Trump’s falsehoods about massive fraud in the election. Trump’s claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country and by his own attorney general.

The Jan. 6 committee voted 9-0 Tuesday to recommend the contempt charges after Bannon missed a scheduled interview with the panel last week, citing a letter from Trump’s lawyer that directed him not to answer questions. The committee noted that Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the attack, and that he not only spoke with Trump before it but also promoted the protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest. On Jan. 5, Bannon said that “all hell is going to break loose.”

Lawmakers on the panel said Bannon was alone in completely defying its subpoena, while more than a dozen other subpoenaed witnesses were at least negotiating with them.

“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear he knew what was going to happen before it did, and thus he must have been aware of — and may well have been involved in — the planning of everything that played out on that day,” Cheney said ahead of the vote. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”

Now the responsibility to prosecute Bannon falls on US Justice Department. There’s still considerable uncertainty about whether the department will pursue the charges, despite Democratic demands for action. It’s a decision that will determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation but also the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information.

While the department has historically been reluctant to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries. Even if the Justice Department does decide to prosecute, the case could take years to play out — potentially pushing past the 2022 election when Republicans could win control of the House and end the investigation.

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Stringent Texas Abortion Law

The Conservative led US Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a Texas law in November this year regarding the ban disallowing abortions after as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The court deferred a request from the Biden administration to block enforcement of the law by vacating a lower court’s ruling. The Texas’s new law prohibits abortions to be performed in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected. In a dissenting note, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, argued that “I cannot capture the totality of this harm in these pages. The impact is catastrophic.”

The hearings will take place one month before the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in another pivotal abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which directly challenges the abortion-rights precedent established in 1973 under Roe v. Wade. The court announced on Friday its decision to hear arguments over whether the Biden administration had the right to sue to end enforcement of the law, Sotomayor indicated that she would already have gone further and blocked it.

While Sotomayor agreed with the court’s decision to hear arguments, she reiterated her view that the law should never have been allowed to remain in place.  “These ruinous effects were foreseeable and intentional,” she wrote.

In early September, the high court ruled 5-4 to allow the new law to stay in place, but Sotomayor penned a scathing dissent that called the court’s refusal to strike down the law “stunning.” “This equates to a near-categorical ban on abortions beginning six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, before many women realize they are pregnant, and months before fetal viability,” she wrote.

Justice Samuel Alito, who is assigned to handle requests from Texas, on Friday also granted a petition from the Department of Justice to have the court hear its challenge of S.B. 8 this term. But the question before the court in that case is limited to whether the federal government has the power to stop state officials or private parties from enforcing Texas’ law. S.B. 8 took effect in September after the Supreme Court declined an emergency request to block it. The law bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which occurs as early as the sixth week of gestation.

That cutoff — when many women do not yet know they are pregnant — is significantly narrower than the window of time to get an abortion allowed under Roe. Rather than task state officials with enforcing the ban, S.B. 8 delegates that power to private citizens, who are allowed to sue, for at least $10,000, anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.

The Justice Department and other critics, including Sotomayor, say the law establishes a private “bounty hunter” system that is designed to prevent courts from intervening. On September 1, the Supreme Court agreed to allow the law to go into effect, splitting bitterly in a 5-4 order released late at night on the court’s emergency docket. Liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sotomayor blasted the timing in a dissent.

They said the court’s “shadow-docket decision making” had become more “unreasoned, inconsistent and impossible to defend.” Polls released afterward showed that public opinion of the court had fallen to a new low. Less than one-third of the country believes that the landmark opinion should be overturned.

Neera Tanden Named As Biden’s Staff Secretary

Neera Tanden, the former president of the Center for American Progress whose nomination as White House budget director was pulled earlier this year, has been named President Joe Biden’s staff secretary, a White House official confirmed Friday.

Tanden has been working in the White House since May as a senior adviser to the president. Her added responsibility as the staff secretary is to control the flow of documents to Biden and other senior staff.

“The Staff Secretary role is the central nervous system of the White House and moves the decision-making process and manages a wide variety of issues for the President,” a White House official said in a statement. The role, a senior position, was once held by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and John Podesta, who later served as then-President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.

Tanden will replace Jessica Hertz, a former Obama administration attorney who worked more recently in the government affairs office of Facebook. White House officials have praised Hertz as a highly regarded, well-liked member of the team.

Tanden, an Indian American, will be the first woman of color to hold the position. She is well known in Washington as a policy wonk and political strategist. She came to the White House from the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank, where she had served most recently as president and CEO and before that as a deputy to Podesta, the think tank’s founder.

Biden nominated Tanden last year to become his director of the Office of Management and Budget, but the White House withdrew her nomination in March after it became clear that she lacked the votes to get Senate confirmation. Multiple lawmakers, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., objected to partisan comments she had previously made on social media.

Tanden previously served as a senior adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services and a policy adviser to the 2008 presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the Biden White House, Tanden has helped lead the external political effort to pass the Biden economic agenda. She has also been overseeing a review of the U.S. Digital Service, a group of technologists who design and maintain the federal government’s technology infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Biden announced his choice of two other Indian-Americans to hold high office in his administration. They include Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally to the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; and Ravi Chaudhary as Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Air Force.

While Thummalapally does not need confirmation, the nomination of Chaudhary will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Thummalapally, the first Indian-American to be appointed as Ambassador in the history of this country, will now serve as the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the White House announced Oct. 18, 2021.

Chaudhary previously served as a Senior Executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation where he was Director of Advanced Programs and Innovation, Office of Commercial Space, at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In this role, he was responsible for the execution of advanced development and research programs in support of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation mission. While at DOT, he also served as the Executive Director, Regions and Center Operations, where he was responsible for integration and support of aviation operations in nine regions located nationwide.

‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ On Broadway

Western musical theatre and Indian films are two long lost lovers separated in time’ : says biggest Indian film-maker Aditya Chopra, who is set to make his Broadway debut as a director with his record-setting worldwide blockbuster, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ)*

Yash Raj Films is the biggest Indian studio and it’s Chairman and Managing Director, Aditya Chopra, has directed and produced some of the biggest blockbusters in the history of Indian cinema. His debut directorial, the historic romantic film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which released in 1995, is still running in theatres. Popularly called DDLJ, it is one of the highest grossing movies in the history of Indian cinema and the biggest IP of the country’s rich and diverse movie industry.

After 26 years, Aditya Chopra is set to direct DDLJ again and it will mark his debut as a director on Broadway. He strongly feels Broadway and Indian films are ‘two long lost lovers separated in time’ because of their intrinsic similarities as both celebrate heart-warming stories and human emotions through music and dance. Aditya has been working on this passion project for the past three years and has roped in a stellar, extremely diverse team, comprising some of the best talents of Broadway and India for the same.

Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical is being produced by Yash Raj Films. Based on an original story by Chopra, the musical will feature book and lyrics by Laurence Oliver Award-winner Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde, Mean Girls), top Indian songwriters Vishal Dadlani & Shekhar Ravjiani will serve as composers. Tony and Emmy winner Rob Ashford (Frozen, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Boys from Syracuse) will choreograph with associate choreographer Shruti Merchant. The design team will also include set design by Emmy and Tony Award winner Derek McLane (Moulin Rouge!, Hairspray Live!, 33 Variations) and music supervision by Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning Bill Sherman (In The Heights, Sesame Street, Hamilton). Adam Zotovich is the Executive Producer for the project.

Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical is set to be on stage in the Broadway season of 2022-2023, with a World Premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego September 2022. A global casting search begins shortly headed by Duncan Stewart of Stewart/Whitley casting and Yash Raj Films casting head Shanoo Sharma.

ADITYA CHOPRA’s NOTE ON HIS BROADWAY DIRECTORIAL:

Summer 1985. I was 14 and on a holiday in London. My parents took my brother and me for our first musical theatre experience. The lights dimmed, the curtains lifted and what unfolded in the next 3 hours left me speechless and stunned. Now, till then, I was a kid who was an avid movie watcher and what I loved the most was big screen Indian blockbusters. But that day what I saw on stage blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that this kind of spectacle could be created live on stage. But the most significant aspect that resonated with me was how similar musical theatre was to our Indian films. It was just not the fact that both use songs to tell the story, it was much more than that, it was the feeling they evoked which was exactly the same. The burst of colours, the heightened drama, the passionate singing, the unabashed dancing, a classic story, a happy end. It filled me with the same joy and emotions that a good Indian film does. I ealized then, that worlds apart, languages apart, western musical theatre and Indian films are two long lost lovers separated in time.

Autumn 2021… I’m embarking on my most ambitious project till date. I’m reuniting two long lost lovers, Broadway Musical and Indian Films. 26 years back I started my career with a film called Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ, what it is more famously known as). The film created history and changed my life and many others forever. But what many don’t know is that I never intended to make DDLJ in Hindi. As a 23 year old young man greatly influenced by Hollywood and American pop culture, I thought I would make a couple of Indian films and then I would be off to Hollywood and make DDLJ for a worldwide English speaking audience with Tom Cruise as my leading man. That obviously didn’t happen. DDLJ released in 1995 and became the longest running film of Indian cinema. It gave me my identity and kickstarted an amazing journey for which I’ll always be grateful.

26 years later I’m going back to my original vision of the story of DDLJ, a love story of an American boy and an Indian girl, a love story of two cultures…two worlds. But this time the medium is not cinema but theatre. 26 years later I will be directing DDLJ all over again but this time as an English language Broadway Musical for a worldwide audience.

I’m terribly nervous and incredibly excited. I’m a hardcore cinema guy, I have never done theatre in my life and here I am trying to pull off the craziest ambition of my life. But what is giving me confidence is the fantastic team that I have. Each one of them are masters of their field and their brilliance and expertise is going to make this a fantastic show. The past 3 years as we have developed this passion project, I have learnt so much from them and discovered the unbelievable talent that the Broadway community has. I feel 23 again, the same age I was when I directed DDLJ. I’m once again a student, each one of my team members is more experienced than me in the world of theatre, I’m the rookie and I’m loving every moment of it. I’m all set to learn, explore, create and enjoy with these wonderful theatre artists and the magical world of Broadway Musicals.

Nell Benjamin wrote: “DDLJ was my introduction to Indian filmmaking before I even knew who the amazing Aditya Chopra was, and the movie had such joy and heart that I fell in love with it. I was so happy to be approached to do the musical and I hope my work helps everyone fall in love with Simran and Rog and their journey across multiple cultures to love. The world can always use a little more cultural understanding, and I can’t wait to sit in a theater with an audience sharing the joy and surprise of Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical.”

‘It’s A War Between The Ogs And The New Bunty Babli’

Yash Raj Films Bunty Aur Babli 2, which is set to release worldwide on November 19, 2021, is a rib-tickling comedy that will pit two sets of con artists, from different generations, against each other as they try to prove who is the better con couple! The makers are setting up this rivalry through a super innovative hilarious teaser video that DOESN’T have ANY film footage! In the video these two pairs of con artists mercilessly troll each other. The video has also revealed that the trailer of Bunty Aur Babli 2 will be out on Monday, 25th October.

Saif Ali Khan, who plays the OG Bunty aka Rakesh, reveals, “Bunty Aur Babli 2 is a game of cat and mouse between the OG con couple and the New con couple trying to prove that they are better than what the originals were in their prime. This will spark the rivalry and it’s just hilarious because of how intelligently the script has been written to show this madness.”

Rani Mukerji, who reprises the role of Vimmy aka Babli in this completely rebooted franchise film, adds, “The video is a true reflection of what the film has to offer to audiences which is non-stop entertainment and non-stop comedy. Though in the unit, we play ourselves and not the characters in the film, it has been smartly written with trolling humour as Saif and I go after Siddhant and Sharvari and vice versa.”

Gully Boy heartthrob Siddhant Chaturvedi is playing the New Bunty. He says, “It’s a war between the OG’s and the new Bunty Babli and it has been brilliantly captured in the video. Both parties stake the claim to be intellectually superior. While the OGs feel that the New con artists are mere usurpers, the new con couple feels that they are way too cool and smart than the OGs! That’s the premise of the film and you will see us going after each other right from this video and all through the entire marketing campaign!”

Gorgeous debutant Sharvari plays the role of the New Babli. She says, “It was super fun to shoot this because here we were being trolled by Saif sir and Rani ma’am for being fake Bunty Babli and we had to prove it to them saying how we are way, way superior con artists because we are children of the tech boom. It was just a laugh riot shooting this unit with the team and we are confident that this will entertain you thoroughly.” Bunty Aur Babli 2 has been directed by Varun V. Sharma, who has worked as an Assistant Director in YRF’s biggest blockbusters Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai.

Ambassador Sandhu Acknowledges Deep Appreciation In US For India Reaching 1 Billion COVID Vaccinations

Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has said that there is “very strong and deep appreciation” in the United States as India achieved the one billion COVID-19 vaccinations milestone.

Speaking at Public Affairs Forum of India’s 8th National Forum 2021 on Thursday, Sandhu said: “It is a very proud moment for us and I can tell you that there is very strong and deep appreciation in the US that we have crossed the one billion landmark and all through the vaccines manufactured in India.”

India attained the milestone of administering 100 crore COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday morning. Several world leaders congratulated India on this achievement.

India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive was launched on January 16, 2021. Initially, the vaccination was opened for Health Care Workers (HCWs) only.

From February 2, front line workers were made eligible for vaccination. These included state and Central Police personnel, Armed Force Personnel, Home Guards, Civil Defence and Disaster Management Volunteers, Municipal workers, Prison Staff, PRI Staff and Revenue workers involved in containment and surveillance, Railway Protection Force and election Staff.

The vaccination drive was expanded from March 1 to include persons above 60 years of age and those above 45 years with associated specified 20 comorbidities.

It was further expanded to all people above 45 years of age from April 1. From May 1 all persons above 18 years of age were made eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Talking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last month visit to the US, Sandhu said the visit was a “testament to the enduring strength of our partnership”.

“My focus here is to share perspective on India-US relationship that has emerged as the most imp bilateral partnership and this was predicted by President Biden in 2006,” he said.
“Last month, PM Modi visited the US for his 1st bilateral face-to-face summit with President Biden and first in-person QUAD Leaders’ Summit. It was a landmark visit during which he identified 5 T’s that define the partnership — tradition, talent, trade, technology & trusteeship,” he added.

US, India To Cooperate In Fighting Cybercrimes, Telemarketing Fraud

The United States and India have agreed to expand their cooperation in fighting cybercrimes, telemarketing fraud and enforcing consumer protection, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Arun G. Rao of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, together with colleagues from the Consumer Protection Branch and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), met this week with Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials in New Delhi to further strengthen law enforcement cooperation.

During the meeting, they discussed means for combating emerging crime trends, including fighting rising telemarketing fraud.

“In their meetings, the parties affirmed their shared commitment to strengthen cooperation in combating crime, specifically with respect to efforts to investigate and prosecute cyber-enabled financial frauds and global telemarketing frauds, including international robocalls and communications,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

They additionally discussed the need for continued cooperation in tackling emerging technology-based crimes through faster information exchange and evidence sharing, with a view to ensure security and protection of citizens of both jurisdictions, the department added.

Tamannaah Among Most Influential Social Media Stars In Southern India

Tamannah Bhatia is one of the most famous actresses of the South. With her alluring personality and mesmerizing presence, Tamannah has gained a vast section of fandom. Her social media profiles indicate the kind of followers the actress has gained over the years. In a recent survey by Forbes India, Tamannah stands in the tenth position in the list of the most influential social media stars (South India). Forbes India has released the results of their recent survey, by calculating the Instagram influence using various metrics. They released the list of Top 30 Most Influential South Actors on Social Media.

Tamannah, who topped as the tenth most influential social media star, expressed her happiness over achieving the feat. The actress also shares the credit with her fans and followers, who she thinks is the main reason behind her success. Forbes India considered the Instagram activity of celebrities from Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam film industries over the most recent 25 posts. The influence is represented through Qoruz Score, using a digital tool which calculates the score based on the likes, number of followers, video views, and other social media activity.

Tamanna Bhatia is an Indian film actress born in Mumbai, India. She made her acting debut in 2005 with Hindi film Chand Sa Roshan Chehra (2005). Also in 2005, she made her Telugu debut with movie Sree (2005). In 2006, she appeared in her first Tamil film, Kedi (2006). In 2007, she starred in two films, Happy Days (2007) and Kalloori (2007), which both earned her critical acclaim. With many commercial successes like Padikathavan, Ayan, Paiyaa and Siruthai, she established herself as one of the leading actresses in the south Indian film industry.

Tamannaah was first found in the 2003 movie Enakku 20 Unakku 18, coordinated by Jyothi Krishna. She postulated the role of Trisha’s companion at 13 years old. In 2005, at 15 years old, she worked the female lead in Chand Sa Roshan Chehra, which was an Industry failure in the cinema world. That year, she made her exordium in Telugu film with Sri and Tamil film with Kedi in 2006.

Tamannaah played the role of a model exhibiting up in different TV commercials. She is embracing famous brands like Celkon Mobiles, Fanta, and Chandrika Ayurvedic cleanser and also the brand ambassador of the Salem predicated jewelry retailer AVR and Khazana Jewellery. Prior to entering the Film industry, she adscititiously acted in Tamil ads like Shakthi Masala, Power Soap, and Sun Direct. She supplementally worked with Virat Kohli for a promotion shoot of Celkon Mobile. In 2014, she presented in a PETA ad, inspiriting shoppers to buy beauty care products that have not been endeavored on animals. In Walk 2015, she adscititiously marked as a brand ambassador for channel Zee Telugu.

Panel Discusses Film By Tirlok Malik, ‘To New India With Love’

A panel discussion on Zoom was held on the short film ‘To New India with Love,’ made by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tirlok Malik, and presented by Padma Shri Dr Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, and was sponsored by The Indian Panorama and Indian American Forum according to a press release from Apple Productions. The Indian American Forum hosted the thought-provoking panel discussion.

‘To New India with Love’ is a non-commercial venture, and examines the subject of youth aspirations. The screenplay and dialogues are written by Murtaza Ali Khan and Rakesh Zharotia is the film’s editor and assistant director. While starting the proceedings for the day, Indu Jaiswal, Chairperson, Indian American Forum introduced the moderators and the panelists while welcoming the guests and underlining the agenda of the event. She congratulated Trilok Malik on the success of ‘To New India with Love’ which has been praised worldwide by audience and critics alike for his inspiring and empowering message to the youth of India.

The panel discussion was moderated by Chief Editor of The Indian Panorama Prof. Indrajit S. Saluja, and Dr. Renee Mehrra. Other panelists at the meeting included Dr. Azad Anand, Dr. Bhupi Patel, Dr. Urmilesh Arya, Shashi Malik, Animesh Goenka, Sudhir Vaishnav, Neeta Bhasin, Anju Sharma, Lal Motwani. Also present were Pam Kwatra, Jyoti Gupta, Chitranjan Sahay Belwariar, and Anurag Sharma.

While congratulating Tirlok Malik on his latest film, Prof. Saluja reflected upon the overwhelming love for India that each and every film of Malik oozes with. Dr. Mehrra praised the film’s message and its relevance. Mrs Beena Kothari also praised the message and thanked Mr Malik for such a thought provoking Film

The panelists included Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Tirlok Malik, Dr. Azad Anand, Dr. Bhupi Patel, Dr. Urmilesh Arya, Shashi Malik, and Animesh Goenka. Each of them praised the film’s subject and its timely message. Sudhir Vaishnav, Neeta Bhasin, Anju Sharma, Lal Motwani, and Andy Bhatia who were also present on the occasion appreciated the film while sharing their views about Malik’s remarkable contribution as a filmmaker over the last three decades. Pam Kwatra, Jyoti Gupta, Chitranjan Sahay Belwariar, and Anurag Sharma were also present.

Talking about his association with the film, Dr. Sudhir Parikh praised the film’s inspiring message. While highlighting the positive changes that have taken place in India over the last five decades, he reminded that the India of today is very different from when he first came to the US. He asserted that the Indian youth today has so many opportunities while touching upon the new initiatives of the present Indian government which have been instrumental in empowering the youth.

Sharing the vision behind the film, Tirlok Malik said that the film aims to inspire the youth of India to not give up on their dreams. Even if someone doesn’t have the means to realize his/her dreams, he/she can achieve success through their hard work and determination. My film ‘To New India with Love’ is an inspiring and motivational film that gives a message of hope to the youth to pursue their dreams.

Tirlok Malik is best known for making films about Indian immigrants in the US, starting with his pioneering work, ‘Lonely in America,’ which was shown in 74 countries and as well as on HBO and participated in 37 film festivals, winning several awards. He subsequently made films such as ‘Love Lust and Marriage,’ ‘Khushiyaan,’ and ‘On Golden Years’. He has also acted in films like ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedka,’ ‘Lajja,’ ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu,’ ‘Ta Ra Rum Pum,’ ‘Sivaji: The Boss,’ and ‘Mehbooba,’ among others.

Dr. Parikh praised the film’s inspiring message noting that Indian youth had far more opportunities today than five decades ago, and that positive changes have taken place in India. He also touched upon the new initiatives of the present Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he said have been instrumental in empowering the youth.

Malik said the film aims to inspire the youth of India to not give up on their dreams and to power through even if they do not have all the means. “My film ‘To New India with Love’ is an inspiring and motivational film that gives a message of hope to the youth to pursue their dreams,” Malik said.

Malik’s earlier film ‘Lonely in America,’ was shown in 74 countries and as well as on HBO and participated in 37 film festivals, winning several awards, the press release said. Other films he made include ‘Love Lust and Marriage,’ ‘Khushiyaan,’ and ‘On Golden Years’. He has also acted in films including ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar,’ ‘Lajja,’ ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu,’ ‘Ta Ra Rum Pum,’ ‘Sivaji: The Boss,’ and ‘Mehbooba.’

Parag Mehta Named President of JPMorgan Chase Policy Center

Indian American executive Parag Mehta has been appointed head of public policy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest bank in the United States and the fifth-largest bank in the world, according to a press release. Mehta announced Oct. 18 on LinkedIn and social media that he will serve as the new managing director and president of the JPMorgan Chase Policy Center.

Most recently, Mehta served as the senior vice president at Mastercard, where he led the company’s efforts to advance sustainable and equitable economic growth around the world as executive director of the company’s Center for Inclusive Growth. In that role, he led a global team of professionals dedicated to ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are broadly shared and who work to leverage the core competencies and assets of Mastercard to achieve the same.

He has spent the past 21 years working to advance justice, inclusion and human rights through political activism, public service and now philanthropy.

Mehta played several leadership roles in former President Barack Obama’s administration including as liaison to the AAPI and LGBTQ communities and as chief of staff to the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. In the Obama administration, Mehta spent more than four years directing communications for a civil rights agency in the U.S. Department of Labor and served on Obama’s presidential transition team as a liaison to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and to LGBT Americans.

In his position with the Surgeon General, he organized a series of campaigns to address some of the most pressing public health issues of our time. Mehta also serves as the Board Chair of New American Leaders, a national nonprofit organization that works to strengthen American democracy by electing first and second generation immigrants and refugees to public office.

Mehta is from Central Texas and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, as well as the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University where he earned a master’s degree in public administration.

India Defies Housing Price Rise Among 60 Countries Surveyed By IMF

While most economic indicators deteriorated in 2020, house prices largely defied the pandemic in over 57 of the 60 countries surveyed by the International Monetary Fund. India, Philippines and the UAE bucked the housing bite reported in the IMF Global House Price Index released Monday. Three quarters saw increases in house prices in 2020. The trend has largely continued in countries with more recent data.

The increases in house prices relative to incomes makes housing unaffordable to many segments of the population, as highlighted in the Fund’s recent study of housing affordability in Europe. The post-pandemic working arrangements could also exacerbate inequality concerns as high-earners in tele-workable jobs bid for larger homes, making homes less affordable for less affluent residents, IMF researchers said.

The surge in house prices has also had an impact on headline inflation in some countries and could contribute to more persistent inflationary pressures. IMF research indicates that low interest rates contributed to the boom in house prices, as did policy support provided by governments and workers’ greater need to be able to work from home.

In many countries, including the US, online searches for homes reached record levels. The American home-sales market has been on a historic rally during the pandemic and well into the current Fall season. Along with these demand factors, house prices also increased as supply chain disruptions raised the costs of several inputs into the construction process.

While fundamentals of demand and supply can account for much of the buoyancy of housing markets during the pandemic, policymakers are nonetheless keeping a close watch on developments in this sector. Over a decade ago, a turnaround in house prices marked the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. However, the twin booms in household credit and house prices in many countries before that crisis-and many previous housing crashes-appear less prevalent today.

Hence, in a plausible scenario, a rise in interest rates, a withdrawal of policy support as economies start to recover, and a restoration of the timely supply of building materials, could lead to some normalization in house prices, the researchers said.

AAHOA Applauds Lifting of Travel Restrictions with Canada and Mexico

America’s hoteliers applauded the Biden administration’s announcement that it will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals from Canada and Mexico to enter the United States starting in early November after a 19-month freeze. For air travel, the policy would require travelers to be fully vaccinated and to test negative for the virus. No testing will be required to enter the country by land or sea, as long as travelers meet the vaccination requirements.

AAHOA is working with the administration to promote vaccine awareness in the hospitality industry and called for new measures to restart international travel safely earlier this year. “This is a big win for our Members, families, business, and tourism industries, especially those living in Texas and in the states bordering Canada,” said AAHOA President & CEO Ken Greene. “Cross-border operations were halted at the start of the pandemic, and AAHOA pressed the administration on the financial toll the travel ban took on small businesses.”

Travel industry studies estimate that international travel spending in the U.S. fell 76% year-over-year compared to 34% for domestic travel in 2020. “Lifting the COVID-19 restrictions on foreign travelers from Mexico and Canada is a significant step in the right direction and signals yet another phase of recovery for the hotel industry,” said AAHOA Chair Vinay Patel. “This decision from the Biden Administration will help return two significant sources of travel and tourism to the U.S., visitors who have historically visited by the tens of millions annually.”

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the nation, with Member-owned properties representing a significant part of the U.S. economy. AAHOA’s 20,000 members own 60% of the hotels in the United States and are responsible for 1.7% of the nation’s GDP. More than one million employees work at AAHOA member-owned hotels, earning $47 billion annually, and member-owned hotels support 4.2 million U.S. jobs across all sectors of the hospitality industry. AAHOA’s mission is to advance and protect the business interests of hotel owners through advocacy, industry leadership, professional development, member benefits, and community engagement.

“While I’m Alive, I’ll Keep Speaking” Journalist Rana Ayyub’s Fight to Expose the Truth in India

For the last several months, every time Rana Ayyub’s phone or doorbell rings, she has felt a pang of fear. Could this be the day the Indian government finally throws her in prison—or worse?

In early October, Ayyub was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with a suspected heart attack. She remembers screaming to doctors in her hospital bed: “I’m dying.” The scare turned out to be a palpitation, and she was prescribed blood pressure medication. “It happened because I was fearful of my life,” Ayyub, 37, says in a phone interview with TIME two weeks later. “I was just tired of this existence.”

Ayyub is one of India’s most famous journalists, and a thorn in the side of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She rose to prominence after she self-published Gujarat Files, a 2016 book about the 2002 violence in the state of Gujarat that left at least 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead. Ayyub’s work accused Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, and his allies of being complicit in the anti-Muslim violence and included undercover audio recordings of politicians in India’s now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. (Modi has never been formally charged and has said his government used its “full strength” to “do the right thing.”)

Since then, Ayyub has struggled to find editors at mainstream Indian publications willing to publish her work. This summer, she joined the American newsletter platform her Substack. She also writes a regular column for the Washington Post, and has occasionally written for TIME, including a TIME cover story in April highlighting the Modi government’s mismanagement of the country’s devastating second wave of COVID-19. And for the past several months, she has endured an escalating campaign of intimidation from Indian authorities and supporters of the ruling party.

“Of all the cases of journalists we work on around the world, at the moment Rana is one of my top concerns,” says Rebecca Vincent, the director of international campaigns at rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “The hate she’s facing has been escalating for years but it’s so intense at the moment. We have a history of journalists being killed with impunity in India, and frankly it’s very possible that could be repeated. When I receive urgent calls from Rana, my immediate instinct is concern for her life.” The Indian government should know, Vincent says, that the world’s eyes are watching out for Ayyub’s safety. “If something happens to her, it will be very obvious where it came from and why,” she says.

Although India is often called the world’s largest democracy, U.S.-based nonprofit Freedom House downgraded India from “free” to “partly free” in March, citing a decline in civil liberties since Modi came to power in 2014, including the intimidation of journalists and activists. Independent journalists, especially women, face particularly intense harassment, abuse and rape threats.

In 2017, prominent journalist Gauri Lankesh, known for her outspoken criticism of the Hindu nationalist government, was shot dead in Bangalore. RSF notes that India “is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly” and the group’s annual World Press Freedom Index ranks India at 142 out of 180 countries.

Modi’s government set up a committee in 2020 to improve India’s ranking; the committee said in March that the RSF methodology lacked transparency and identified a “Western bias” in the index. (India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting did not reply to a request for comment.)

Ayyub is used to living on the edge. In 2018, for example, BJP supporters shared on social media a pornographic video doctored to include Ayyub’s face in an attempt to discredit her. For more than four years, she has received a barrage of anonymous death and rape threats on her social media. But for the last several months, she has been the victim of a campaign of intimidation by Indian authorities that has taken even her by surprise.

In June, the Uttar Pradesh police opened an investigation into Ayyub and other Muslim journalists after they tweeted a video showing a violent attack against a Muslim man. Police and government officials said the man’s claim was faked and police accused Ayyub and several others of attempting to “create animosity between Hindus and Muslims,” saying they did “not make an attempt to establish truth in the case.” In a statement at the time, the Uttar Pradesh government said it placed “absolute sanctity to rule of law, civil liberties and freedom of expression” and the investigation was not lodged “due to any witch-hunt.”

In June, the central government’s Income Tax Department sent Ayyub a summons, investigating her income in relation to her fundraising for COVID-19. (During the height of India’s pandemic earlier this spring, she traveled the country distributing humanitarian aid that she had raised funds for via her online following.) Shortly after, the Enforcement Directorate began investigating Ayyub’s foreign sources of income. Ayyub describes the accusations as baseless. She says she has been followed in the street by mysterious cars, and that she has been forced to disclose to authorities confidential information and emails, including with her editors. On Sept. 27, she filed an appeal against the Income Tax Department, where her case is pending. (The department did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.)

After an experience being tailed by an unknown car for 90 minutes in Mumbai, Ayyub wrote a letter for one of her family members to publish in the event of her death. “It just says that in case anything happens to me, I don’t want you to let my death go in vain,” she says. “I want the future generation of journalists, writers, activists to know that even if my life is short-lived, it’s a fight worth fighting. While I’m alive, I’ll keep speaking.”

Press freedom is under growing threat around the world. In October, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, editors-in-chief of independent publications who have each faced state-sanctioned intimidation for daring to stand up to authoritarian regimes. Ayyub has spoken to Ressa and gathers strength from knowing that others like her are going through similar trials. She welcomes the recognition for Ressa and Muratov, and sees parallels between their countries and India. (The Philippines is ranked at 138 on the World Press Freedom Index, while Russia is at 150.) “It has given so many of us the courage to fight,” she says of the Nobel Peace Prize going to embattled journalists. “It felt like it was for each one of us.”

But Ayyub is no editor-in-chief. She is a single journalist working mostly alone, without institutional support, and largely for international publications. This makes her particularly vulnerable, but also more determined. “If anything, what they are doing to me has made me realize that my words count, and they are having an impact,” she says.

After Ayyub’s heart scare in early October, her 75-year-old father suggested the family leave the country. His daughter refused. “I love this country more than I can ever explain,” she told TIME. “If I hated it, I would have left a long time ago. Our forefathers, our freedom fighters, fought the British to give us this independent India, this grand idea of a democracy. And I’m fighting for this very idea.”

Focus On China, US At UN Climate Change Conference

For two weeks in early November, the nations of the world will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to negotiate updates to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the landmark agreement in which more than 190 countries pledged to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

With temperatures rising and extreme weather occurring across the globe, all eyes at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be on China, the leading producer of greenhouse gases, and the United States, the largest emitter both historically and on a per capita basis.

Keeping an eye on the results of the conference will be Phillip Stalley, the endowed professor of environmental diplomacy in DePaul University’s Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. Stalley’s research centers on building diplomatic bridges in environmental policy across the globe, with a special focus on China’s evolving approach to environmental diplomacy. He’s the author of “Foreign Firms, Investment, and Environmental Regulation in the People’s Republic of China.”

In this Q&A, Stalley discusses the upcoming climate conference and the roles of the U.S. and China.

With recent studies affirming the dire climate situation, what do you anticipate the U.S. and China — the two largest climate polluters — will say at the Glasgow conference?

A recent report by Chatham House estimates that, even if countries implement their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the original Paris Agreement, we still have a less than 5% chance of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, which is the stated goal of Paris. Without stronger action, the fires, floods and other extreme weather we have all witnessed recently will be a lot worse.

The key question for Glasgow and beyond is whether China and the U.S. can be convinced to offer more ambitious climate targets in their NDCs. For instance, China currently has its “30-60” pledge, which refers to its twin goals of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. Neither is consistent with the 2 degree target. The hope is that China, either in Glasgow or in the not too distant future, will move forward its peak dates and offer a specific cap for its total energy-related CO2 emissions, rather than just a peak year.

On the U.S. side, some of the biggest questions involve implementation and finance. President Joe Biden has pledged to slash U.S. emissions in half by 2030, but given Republican opposition, can he pass the domestic legislation necessary to achieve that goal? In terms of finance, Biden recently announced he will work with Congress to provide $11.4 billion to aid developing countries fighting climate change. If the U.S. wants other countries to do more, it will need to prove it can contribute more to the $100 billion climate finance goal agreed to in Paris.

Will other countries be willing to listen to a new U.S. administration talk about the need for climate action now when the U.S. only a few years ago left the Paris Climate Accord?

It is certainly true that the U.S.’s uneven track record undermines its credibility in international negotiations and inhibits its ability to influence other countries. U.S. diplomats will struggle in Glasgow if Biden cannot get the infrastructure and budget bills through Congress, both of which provide extensive funding for programs to combat climate change.

It’s worth noting, however, that U.S. state and municipal governments also play an important role in climate change diplomacy. After former President Donald Trump announced America’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord, governors from roughly two dozen states formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to abide by the Paris targets. Additionally, despite the Trump administration’s public stance against climate regulations, more coal power was retired during his four years than were in former President Barack Obama’s second term.

Are there other types of non-traditional diplomacy and advocacy that could help persuade the U.S. and China to take action around climate change?

There are many opportunities for non-traditional diplomacy to exert influence on both countries’ approach to climate change. This is evident, for instance, in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement that China will stop supporting coal power projects overseas. The reasons for this decision are complex and include commercial considerations, but part of the explanation is that Beijing was facing a great deal of pressure, from not only foreign governments, but also activists, experts and NGOs across the world. Beijing’s decision represents a victory for all the diplomats and activists who have been fighting for years to stop the funding of overseas coal.

Mullaperiyar Dam- A Ticking Time Bomb In Kerala

Damocles Sword- we have heard about it or sometimes felt around a situation like that. But an old dam in Kerala has been scaring millions of people with a fear of its disastrous breach at any time.

Once again, due to the alarming flood in Kerala State, the good old  Mullaperiyar Dam is a ticking time bomb, waiting to detonate to give way to nature’s fury. As a result, the people of Idukki and the adjoining districts of Kerala have been living in constant fear of losing their livelihood or even lives. It may wipe away two or three densely populated districts of the Kerala State itself. Google says that the average lifespan of a dam is often estimated to be 50 years. In that case, this particular dam would have been in the process of rebuilding for the third time.

As per the long history cut short; Mullaperiyar dam was built in the late 1800s in the princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala) and given to British-ruled Madras Presidency on a 999-year lease in 1886. The agreement granted full rights to the secretary of state of Tamil Nadu, a British official, to construct irrigation projects on the land. The dam was built to divert a part of the west-flowing Periyar river eastwards to feed the arid areas of Tamil Nadu. Now there is no princely state or British rule, so better forget about the 999 year lease. Only thing we need to care is the safety and  fraternity among neighboring states and mutual help by each other.

Current safety concerns relate to several issues. First, we need to understand that the dam was constructed using stone rubble masonry with lime mortar grouting, following prevailing 19th-century construction techniques that have now become archaic. As a result, seepage, cracks and leaks from the dam have caused concern.

Considering the endangered situation, the level of water in the Mullapperiyar Dam was restricted to 136 feet. Mullaperiyar dam continues to be an issue of an ongoing disagreement between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Multiple interpretations on everything from the integrity of the 1886 agreement governing its use to the project’s structural safety are being questioned at various stages and platforms.

Mullaperiyar dam located above Southern Naval Command is a threat to national safety, and it should be decommissioned immediately. We cannot compromise on national security. The Kerala government is hiding this potential threat to the Navy.(Aug 26, 202). If the Mullaperiyar Dam bursts, three reservoirs downstream Idukki, Cheruthoni, and Kolamavu would face the brutal onslaught of unleashed water. If these dams cannot hold the force, the lives of 3.5 million people living in the region will be changed forever.

In case the Dam bursts, with a water level at 136 feet, the resultant flood will submerge at least 50 square kilometers of land downstream. The thundering water would flow at the height of 36 feet, inundating buildings, uprooting trees, and filling muddy destruction all over the way.

On the other hand, Kerala contends it is not safe to raise the water level as Idukki district, where the dam is located, is earthquake-prone and has experienced multiple low-intensity quakes. Scientists, too, have said the dam cannot withstand an earthquake measuring over six on the Richter scale and that if such a calamity were to happen, the lives of more than three million people would be imperiled.

Tamil Nadu claims that though it has undertaken periodic repairs on the dam, the Kerala government has not raised the water level. As a result, it says it has suffered huge losses from not using the dam to its total capacity.

We remember that the 1979 Morvi Dam failure which killed up to 15,000 people, Kerala Government has repeatedly brought to the attention of the Supreme Court, the fear and safety concerns of the aging Mullaperiyar dam and alleged cracks and leaks in it’s structure. Kerala has abundant water resources, and they have no objection to giving it out to Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu is the only benefactor of this dam, providing sufficient water for irrigation and electric power generation.

While considering the extraordinary method of construction, everybody knows it is not safe. So many temporary fixings helped to survive the minor earthquakes and flooding. But there may not be the next time.  Both Kerala and Tamilnadu governments need to safeguard the lives and properties of millions of Keralites living under the shadow of vanishing at any time. If Tamilnadu wants to enjoy the water resources from Kerala exclusively for their use, let them build a new dam with no delay; keralites will gladly agree to it. But delaying an immediate action, can cause unexpected disasters in Kerala State. If so, the so far gentle nature of the public, may not be reflecting indeed.

Elections are over. Let this be the utmost important issue in southern India, lest humanity will never forgive the negligence of the judiciary and governments, who ignore the hazardous situation of tormenting millions of Keralites in the struggle.

A Cure for Diabetes?

Newswise — A novel approach to treating type 2 diabetes is being developed at the Technion. The disease, caused by insulin resistance and reduction of cells’ ability to absorb sugar, is characterized by increased blood sugar levels. Its long-term complications include heart disease, strokes, damage to the retina that can result in blindness, kidney failure, and poor blood flow in the limbs that may lead to amputations. It is currently treated by a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and insulin injections, but ultimately is associated with a 10-year reduction in life expectancy.

Led by Professor Shulamit Levenberg, Ph.D. student Rita Beckerman from the Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering Laboratory in the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering presents a novel treatment approach, using an autograft of muscle cells engineered to take in sugar at increased rates. Mice treated in this manner displayed normal blood sugar levels for months after a single procedure. The group’s findings were recently published in Science Advances.

Muscle cells are among the main targets of insulin, and they are supposed to absorb sugar from the blood. In their study, Prof. Levenberg’s group isolated muscle cells from mice and engineered these cells to present more insulin-activated sugar transporters (GLUT4). These cells were then grown to form an engineered muscle tissue, and finally transported back into the abdomen of diabetic mice. The engineered cells not only proceeded to absorb sugar correctly, improving blood sugar levels, but also induced improved absorption in the mice’s other muscle cells, by means of signals sent between them. After this one treatment, the mice remained cured of diabetes for four months – the entire period they remained under observation. Their blood sugar levels remained lower, and they had reduced levels of fatty liver normally displayed in type 2 diabetes.

“By taking cells from the patient and treating them, we eliminate the risk of rejection,” Prof. Levenberg explained. These cells can easily integrate back into being part of the body and respond to the body’s signalling activity.

Currently around 34 million Americans, just over 1 in 10, suffer from diabetes, 90% of them from type 2 diabetes. An effective treatment – and one that is a one-time treatment rather than daily medication – could significantly improve both quality of life and life expectancy of those who have diabetes. The same method could also be used to treat various enzyme deficiency disorders.

This work was funded by Rina and Avner Schneur as part of the Rina and Avner Schneur Center for Diabetes Research.

APPLE Showcases Women Techies Of Indian Origin On World Stage

It was Indian-origin women techies’ turn to take the centre-stage as Apple unveiled its next line-up of products, including an all-powerful MacBook Pro with new M1 chips, next-generation AirPods and other products and services.

After Apple CEO Tim Cook set the tone late on Monday, Susmita Dutta who is engineering program manager for SoC (system-on-chip) for audio products, introduced the next-generation AirPods, featuring spatial audio, industry-leading sound, longer battery life and an all-new design during the ‘Unleashed’ event at Apple Park in Cupertino, California.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Dutta joined Apple nearly four years ago as system test design lead, before being elevated as audio engineering program manager. She earlier worked at GE Healthcare for more than seven years as lead system designer (ABUS Ultrasound) in California.

A Madras University graduate in engineering, Dutta now has more than 16 years of system and hardware engineering experience, specifically in systems engineering methodology, test design and mass production of low and high-volume products.

After next-gen AirPods was the turn of new and all-powerful MacBook Pro with next-gen M1 chips, and Shruti Haldea from the Mac team joined the stage with top company executives, taking the audience through the machine meant for developers, filmmakers, creators and innovators.

Working at Apple for more than 12 years, Haldea joined the tech giant as global supply manager and became product line manager for Pro Mac in 2019. An MBA from Harvard Business School, she introduced the world to game-changing MacBook Pro with M1 Pro and M1 Max that deliver extraordinary performance and battery life, and features the world’s best notebook display.

The new MacBook Pro features a stunning Liquid Retina XDR display, a wide range of ports for advanced connectivity, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera and the best audio system in a notebook. Combined with macOS Monterey, which is engineered down to its core to take full advantage of M1 Pro and M1 Max, the user experience is simply unrivaled for developers, photographers, filmmakers, 3D artists, scientists and music producers.

In April 2021, Apple’s ‘Spring Loaded’ event saw Navpreet Kaloty, a dashing Sikh, who mesmerized the audience with his iMac presentation. A Bachelor of Applied Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo in the US, Kaloty looks after Mac architecture as an engineering program manager at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. He interned for some time with the product management team for operational excellence at electric car maker Tesla.

How Parents Can Help Teens Navigate Social Media

Newswise — BUFFALO, N.Y. — How can families help children and teens navigate the ever-changing landscape of social media — especially when many of today’s parents and caregivers did not grow up with these technologies as central to their daily lives?

Sourav Sengupta, MD, a University at Buffalo expert in child and adolescent mental health, says one way that trusted adults can support young people is by setting age- and developmentally-appropriate boundaries. It’s not a matter of “teetotaling,” he notes: It’s about slowly teaching young people how to use social media in healthy ways.

“I think we are generally behind as adults in keeping up with our children’s social technology use,” Sengupta says. “While some parents of younger children identify as ‘digital natives,’ many parents became more active social technology users beyond childhood or adolescence.

“Our children will need to grow up to find a reasonable way to incorporate, tolerate and utilize social technologies in their lives,” Sengupta adds. “We really cannot afford to be passive in that process. We need to be engaged, which includes offering firm boundaries.”

Sengupta is an assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, and program director for the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship in the Jacobs School.

Q: What are some ways that social media impacts mental health?

Sengupta: “There is significant evidence for the negative social and emotional impacts of excessive social technology use. For example, there are concerns for increased social isolation, lower self-esteem, decreased participation in normative healthy activities, and decreased concentration.

“On the other hand, there is also evidence to support adolescents utilizing social technologies to explore their identities, connect with peers and family, and learn more about their world.”

Q: How do generational gaps create challenges for parents and caregivers?

Sengupta: “I think that many of us do not have meaningful lived experiences of what it means to be a modern child with so much access to such a broad range and depth of social, cultural and technological information, all the time.

“For parents and caregivers who find themselves a bit overwhelmed, we may need to catch up a bit. Check in with other parents, spend some time interacting with the apps your kids are using. If you’re looking for a little primer, check out Common Sense Media’s Social Media resource page for parents.”

Q: Instagram has been in the news a lot lately. What are some considerations for this platform?

Sengupta: “Instagram is a highly visual medium. It immediately grabs our attention at a very primal level. Combine that with the experience of getting (or not getting) ‘likes,’ responding to comments, and constantly comparing complex experiences through pictures with limited context, and you’ve got a recipe for a highly stimulating, variably rewarding, intermittently toxic social experience for young people.

“Instagram can really lend itself to the ‘curated life’ phenomena. If you see other users primarily posting about their most amazing positive experiences, it can give the impression that others’ lives are amazing while mine is ‘just okay.’ Teens can spend a significant amount of time agonizing over getting a post ‘just right.’ To me, parents’ supervision and potential concern over use may need to be proportional to the amount of time and energy an adolescent spends crafting the perfect image or comment.”

Q: What tips do you have for parents?

Sengupta: “Think purposeful and pro-social. If young people are using social media to learn something new, interact with peers about a special event coming up, or directly connect with a friend or family member, these can be healthy ways for them to feel connected and engaged in their social world.

“Limits are important. We know that spending hours a day on social media can put young people at increased risk for depression. One study showed that limiting use to 30 minutes or less per day was associated with decreased loneliness and depression. For teens, 30 minutes or less a day is a great goal but may feel far off for many teens and families. If you are pulling back, do it gradually and don’t be surprised by resistance. For younger children, strongly consider holding off on anything other than directly supervised use or video calls with trusted friends and families. And don’t forget, there should be a significant amount of screen-free time before bed.

“Slowly grant increasing freedom as young people demonstrate they are developmentally prepared to handle that autonomy. It’s like how you’d approach helping young people gradually develop a healthy relationship with alcohol or rich foods or romance. Different families will have different values and priorities that inform how much and how often their kids will use these technologies, but we need to be involved. We need to (re)engage.

“Familiarize yourself with the social technologies children and teens are using. You should be on their platforms as a friend or connection. There should be a clear understanding that you get to ‘vet’ what is being posted.

“Talk to young people about digital safety. They should understand that they shouldn’t give away personal/private information to strangers. For teens, we need to discuss healthy emotional expressions and contrast those with exploitative or risky expressions they may come to regret. If teens are being too excessive or risky in their social media use, parents may have to be creative and persistent in finding ways to appropriately limit use. And if this is feeling too difficult, it may be time to check in with a teen’s pediatrician or consult with a therapist.

“Lastly, work to be a good role model. Teens are going to find it difficult to listen to their parents about less screen time if adults in the household are constantly on their devices. Find ways to unplug and spend quality time together as a family. Not always easy, but always worth it.”

Almost All Studies Show, Humans Cause Climate Change

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – More than 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans, according to a new survey of 88,125 climate-related studies.

The research updates a similar 2013 paper revealing that 97% of studies published between 1991 and 2012 supported the idea that human activities are altering Earth’s climate. The current survey examines the literature published from 2012 to November 2020 to explore whether the consensus has changed.

“We are virtually certain that the consensus is well over 99% now and that it’s pretty much case closed for any meaningful public conversation about the reality of human-caused climate change,” said Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at the Alliance for Science at Cornell University and the paper’s first author.

“It’s critical to acknowledge the principal role of greenhouse gas emissions so that we can rapidly mobilize new solutions, since we are already witnessing in real time the devastating impacts of climate-related disasters on businesses, people and the economy,” said Benjamin Houlton, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell and a co-author of the study, “Greater than 99% Consensus on Human Caused Climate Change in the Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature,” which published Oct. 19 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In spite of such results, public opinion polls as well as opinions of politicians and public representatives point to false beliefs and claims that a significant debate still exists among scientists over the true cause of climate change. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that only 27% of U.S. adults believe “almost all” scientists agreed climate change is due to human activity, according to the paper. A 2021 Gallup poll pointed to a deepening partisan divide in American politics on whether Earth’s rising observed temperatures since the Industrial Revolution were primarily caused by humans.

“To understand where a consensus exists, you have to be able to quantify it,” Lynas said. “That means surveying the literature in a coherent and non-arbitrary way in order to avoid trading cherry-picked papers, which is often how these arguments are carried out in the public sphere.”

In the study, the researchers began by examining a random sample of 3,000 studies from the dataset of 88,125 English-language climate papers published between 2012 and 2020. They found only four out of the 3,000 papers were skeptical of human-caused climate change. “We knew that [climate skeptical papers] were vanishingly small in terms of their occurrence, but we thought there still must be more in the 88,000,” Lynas said.

Co-author Simon Perry, a United Kingdom-based software engineer and volunteer at the Alliance for Science, created an algorithm that searched out keywords from papers the team knew were skeptical, such as “solar,” “cosmic rays” and “natural cycles.” The algorithm was applied to all 88,000-plus papers, and the program ordered them so the skeptical ones came higher in the order. They found many of these dissenting papers near the top, as expected, with diminishing returns further down the list. Overall, the search yielded 28 papers that were implicitly or explicitly skeptical, all published in minor journals.

If the 97% result from the 2013 study still left some doubt on scientific consensus on the human influence on climate, the current findings go even further to allay any uncertainty, Lynas said. “This pretty much should be the last word,” he said.

Support for the Alliance for Science is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Pope Francis Calls For Greater Female Leadership Ahead Of G-20 Summit

(RNS) — In a message read by his secretary of state to a women’s advocacy group meeting ahead of the G-20 summit, Pope Francis called for greater female leadership in world affairs on Monday (Oct. 18), telling the Women’s Forum G-20 that “our world needs the collaboration of women, their leadership and their abilities, as well as their intuition and their dedication.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, read the pontiff’s message by video to a special two-day gathering in Milan of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, founded by Publicis public relations to highlight women’s voices in government and diplomacy. The forum is taking place days before the summit in Rome of the heads of state of the world’s largest economies. Before the event, Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden for the first time since his election.

The Catholic Church has a complicated track record on the question of women’s participation and leadership. While there is no shortage of strong female figures in the church, some lament the lack of women’s involvement in decision-making in an institution that doesn’t allow them to become priests, bishops, cardinals or popes. In the message, Francis quoted his predecessor St. John Paul II, who in 1995 wrote a letter to women, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” that was interpreted by many as a manifesto for further female inclusion in the church. (John Paul II was also responsible for answering with a definitive “no” the question of female ordination.)

Francis opened two commissions, one in 2016 and another in 2020, to study the possibility of allowing women to become deacons — clergy who can preach but cannot perform the sacraments. Since becoming pope, he has appointed more than a dozen women to positions of influence and leadership in the Vatican. In early October, the pope launched a two-year synodal process, in which the faithful will be called to discuss, debate and express their views on the most pressing issues facing the Catholic Church. When the world’s Catholic bishops convene in Rome in 2023 to vote on the issues raised in the process, only one woman, Sister Nathalie Becquart, whom Pope Francis appointed as undersecretary to the synod of bishops, will be allowed to vote.

The message Parolin read quoted some of Francis’ earlier speeches praising “the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all” and their ability to be “concrete and know how to weave life’s threads with quiet patience.” It is with this constant weaving, it said, that women promote a sense of “selflessness” that is capable of looking beyond the myopic approach solely centered on immediate profit. The contribution of women is essential “in the efforts for the care of our common home.”

While the pope noted men’s and women’s “respective characteristics,” his message said both sexes are “called to embrace their common vocation to be active builders of society.” The pope’s speech ended with an emphatic appeal calling for the education of every girl in the world: “I would like to seize this opportunity to reiterate a strong encouragement that every girl and young woman in every country may have access to quality education so that each of them may flourish, expand their own potential and talents, and dedicate themselves to the development and progress of cohesive societies.”

Facebook Fined $4.79 Million For Favoring Foreigners Over U.S. Citizens

In a case that turns on its head the common perception of foreigners suffering employment bias in the U.S., Facebook is to pay a fine of $4.75 million for discriminating in favor of foreign workers on H-1B visas – largely used by companies employing Indian workers – and against American citizens and permanent residents, according to the Justice Department.

The department said Oct. 19 that Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., will also pay up to $9.75 million to the workers it had discriminated against under a settlement it made with it and the Labor Department, reported IANS. “This settlement is an important step forward and means that U.S. workers will have a fair chance to learn about and apply for Facebook’s job opportunities,” Labor Department’s Indian American Solicitor Seema Nanda said.

The Justice Department said that the fine and the backpay were the largest “that the Division ever has recovered in the 35-year history of the INA’s (Immigration and Naturalization Act) anti-discrimination provision.” The voluntary settlement by Facebook closes the case launched in December by the Justice Department in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

The department had charged Facebook with routinely reserving jobs for H-1B visa holders, using recruiting methods designed to deter U.S. workers from applying for certain positions, and hiring only temporary visa holders in 2018 and 2019. The foreign workers were hired under the permanent labor certification program (PERM) that would make them eligible for permanent resident status or green cards, the Department said.

“Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status. This settlement reflects the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to holding employers accountable and eradicating discriminatory employment practices,” said Kristen Clarke, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General.

The division is under the purview of Indian American Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

Facebook said that although it strongly believed that it met the federal government standards for the PERM program, “We’ve reached agreements to end the ongoing litigation and move forward with our PERM program, which is an important part of our overall immigration program.”

About 65 percent of all H-1B visa holders are from India and are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major U.S. technology companies.

The Justice Department said that Facebook had made it difficult for U.S. citizens and others with the right to work here by requiring them to apply only by mail for those positions while the foreigners were allowed to apply electronically.

Under the settlements, Facebook, whose PERM program was audited by the Labor Department this year, will also be required to advertise jobs more widely, accept electronic resumes and applications from all, and train its employees in anti-discrimination rules.

Associated Press adds from Washington: The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire U.S. workers, a group that includes U.S. citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than U.S. citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are U.S. citizens.

“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring U.S. tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”

Historic New Dawn At “Ekal Abhiyan”

There is historic new dawn at “Ekal Abhiyan” (‘Ekal Mission’), an umbrella organization for all the ancillary ‘Ekal branchlets’, as ‘Diwali’ festivities approach. After the departure of former CEO of “Ekal Abhiyan”, Bajrang Bagra, to tackle another assignment of national importance, Ramesh Shah, the former President and Chairman of ‘Ekal-USA’ has been unanimously appointed as the new CEO of “Ekal Abhiyan”.

What makes this a historic moment is the fact that, he is the first Indian American who rose from a foot-soldier level to this distinctive honor, whose sole focus and establishment is not United States (U.S.) but rural India. Rameshbhai, as he is popularly known, has been a founder member of ‘Ekal-USA’ and credited with building a modest ‘one-teacher-school’ project, 32 years back into a national brand in U.S. for ‘selfless social work’, with over 60 widespread chapters in U.S., Canada and beyond. While endorsing his successor, Bagraji – a highly admired visionary possessing leadership acumen – expressed nothing but confidence and admiration for the new CEO. In a statement he said,” Rameshbhai will improve upon working of Ekal in fields of operational efficiency and organizational growth. He was my guide and supporter for all matters related to foreign chapters. Moreover, his we unmatched passion and long experience in serving the community in multiple sectors, including VHP & Ekal, has always been a great asset”. Dr Mahesh Mehta, former Chairman of ‘VHP of America’ commenting on Ekal’s trailblazing success across the continent, communicated that,” I am excited and proud that Rameshbhai fulfilled the task he was entrusted with in such a monumental way.”

Coming from a very humble rural background, Rameshbhai with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a brief stint as an engineer in an Indian industrial corporation, arrived in U.S. in 1970, with a dream to excel like all immigrants. He subsequently obtained degrees in MBA-Finance and MA in Economics. When the national emergency was declared in India 1975, he actively participated in ‘Indians for Democracy’ and ‘Friends of India Society International’ that demanded the restoration of the Indian constitution. He has been a lifelong ‘Swayamsevak’ (volunteer) of H.S.S. While at ‘V.H.P. of America’, he took the responsibility of floating ‘Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation’ in 1988 and worked tirelessly and diligently to make it a great success.

In the initial days of ‘Ekal’ he used to carry box-load of self-prepared information-publicity material to various community events in the hope of getting an opportunity to talk about rural illiteracy. With amicable nature and deep convictions assisting his hard-work, he soon found access wherever he went. Over the years, Rameshbhai, with his dedication and tenacity has brought in numerous donors, volunteers and thinkers to Ekal fold and motivated diverse groups to join hands with Ekal. Besides Ekal, he is responsible for establishing ‘Gujarati Samaj of Houston’ and spearheading countless projects related to ‘eyecare’ in India. During this entire community-centric journey, he was assisted by his soulmate, wife-Kokilaben. They both have been felicitated number of times by the Indian diaspora in U.S.

The high points of Rameshbhai’s community involvement came in 2014 and 2019 when he successfully planned and coordinated public reception for the newly elected Indian PM Modi at huge arena-filled gatherings in New York City and Houston. This was unprecedented in U.S. for any foreign dignitary. For this herculean task, to everyone’s amazement, he ensured that every thread of Indian community was part of it. In January 2017, Rameshbhai was bestowed with the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award (PBSA)’ by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee – the highest honor conferred on overseas Indians by the Government of India in recognition of achievements, both in India and abroad. Therefore, it is no wonder that Bagraji called him ‘the most suited candidate to be the CEO of Ekal Abhiyan’. Basically, as CEO, he is going to be the bridge between Ekal-India and Ekal-Global; a point-man for all Ekal activities; an accountability administrator; a success assessor of various rural projects; and the strategic planner for Ekal’s future.

Asked about his immediate goal, Rameshbhai, taking inspiration from ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyayji, said,”it is twofold – First, I would like to bring in a lot more dedicated, committed young people to Ekal because they are the future of this organization. Secondly, I believe that we have not yet explored the full potentials of all our chapter members. So, collectively, we need to find ways and means to bring their dormant skills to the surface and utilize them for everyone’s benefit”. The first mega event happening under his watch is going to be “Future of India’ gala of November 13 which will be virtual and co-chaired by Kamlesh Shah and Mohan Wanchoo. The distinguished speakers who are lending their eagerly awaited presence to this magnificent event are Renu Khator, Chancellor of University of Houston; Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson & Founder of Biocon. Rameshbhai is confident that the funds raised would set a new record for the special-projects.

As Australia Expects Boom In Tourism, Qantas Moves Up Flights

Qantas Airways has brought forward its plans to restart international travel from Sydney as Prime Minister Scott Morrison predicted tourists would be welcomed back to Australia this year. Vaccinated Australian permanent residents and citizens will be free to travel through Sydney from Nov. 1 without the need for hotel quarantine on their return.

Two weeks ago, Morrison said Australians, skilled migrants and students would be given priority over foreign travelers in coming to Sydney. He predicted tourists would return in 2022 or later. But while tourists would retain their low priority, Morrison now expects they will return this year. “That is very possible and very achievable before the end of the year,” Morrison said.

Sydney-based Qantas announced services to Thailand, Singapore, South Africa and Fiji had been brought forward by weeks or months. A new service to New Delhi would begin in December, the first to India in almost a decade. The 22,000 staff employed by Qantas and its budget subsidiary Jetstar would return to work in December, six months earlier than planned.

The changes are being driven by New South Wales’ rapid uptake of vaccines. By Friday, 83% of the population aged 16 and older was fully vaccinated and almost 93% had at least one dose of a vaccine. Only the national capital Canberra has a higher proportion of the population vaccinated.

Australia had one the lowest vaccination rates of any wealthy country due to supply problems and public distrust of locally manufactured AstraZeneca. It now has one of the highest due in part to supply deals done with Britain, Poland and Singapore.

Melbourne, Australia’s most populous city after Sydney, came out of 77 days of lockdown on Friday after Victoria state reached a benchmark of 70% of the target population fully vaccinated. Pandemic restrictions were eased despite Victoria recording its deadliest day of the delta variant outbreak with 16 COVID-19 deaths. There were also 2,189 new infections detected in the latest 24 hours.

“Victorians, it’s fair to say, have done a quite amazing thing. So many people going and getting vaccinated so quickly,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. “We’ve always said that lockdowns were a function of not having the vaccine that we needed but if we got vaccinated, we’d have so many more options,” he added.

Sydney, where the delta outbreak began in June, came out of lockdown last week after reaching the same 70% vaccination benchmark. New South Wales reported five COVID-19 deaths on Friday and 345 new infections.

Catholicism Growing Everywhere Except In Europe

(RNS) — A Vatican census released ahead of World Mission Day reveals growing numbers of Catholics in what Pope Francis often refers to as “the global peripheries,” even as the number of believers continues to diminish in Europe.

The number of Catholics in the world grew by more than 15 million from 2018 to 2019, according to a census by the Vatican news agency Fides published on Thursday (Oct. 21). “The increase applies to all continents, except Europe,” which saw the number of Catholic faithful decrease by almost 300,000, the survey found.

The data was released ahead of the 95th World Mission Day, which will be celebrated on Sunday in dioceses around the globe following the one-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the census, conducted annually among Catholic faithful, Catholics represented 17.7% of the global population in 2019. As Catholicism gained followers in Africa, the Americas and Asia, the church’s numbers waned in Europe, the historic basin of Catholicism that is now increasingly becoming a mission territory.

While the number of Catholic priests has grown overall, Europe has seen a consistent decrease in clergy, where the number of faithful per priest grew to more than 3,245-to-1. For the seventh year in a row, the number of religious brothers and sisters has declined everywhere, with Africa as the only exception. Religious sisters experienced the sharpest decline, losing 11,562 members.

Seminarians studying to become priests also shrunk globally, especially in minor seminaries for people between 11 and 18 years old. Bishops diminished by 13, now totaling 5,364 globally.

While clergy members experienced a steep fall worldwide, the number of lay missionaries grew significantly, especially in the Americas and Africa, with only a small decrease in Asia. Catechists saw their numbers reduced by 2,590, with the Americas and Europe registering the highest drops.

The Fides data accounts for all Catholics until Dec. 31, 2019. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent church closures and deaths, experts at a Vatican news conference on Thursday admitted the numbers may have changed substantially during 2020.

Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, addressed the challenges of putting together all the data, especially during the pandemic. While admitting “the de-Christianization is evident,” Dal Toso added that beneath the surface there are new and lively Christian communities that are thriving, even in Europe.

“I think it will be necessary to implement courses for Christian formation” to help the faithful better understand Catholicism, he said.

In a message shown at the news conference and written in January, Pope Francis said “the pandemic has brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people. It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst.”

The most frail and vulnerable took the brunt of the pandemic, the pope said, as the world witnesses a “growing negativity that stifles hope.” Despite these challenges, Francis said “the call to mission is not a thing of the past,” and the world needs missionaries willing “to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion.”

Speaking at the news conference, Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines encouraged the faithful to become “missionaries fueled by compassion and hope.” Mentioning his experience living in Asia, where Catholics represent a minority of the population, the cardinal warned that “if we keep the faith to ourselves, we will become weak, and if we keep the faith to a small group, it might become an elite group.” Instead, he continued, Christians and missionaries are called “to reach all the nations, the geographical and existential spaces.”

Tagle has headed the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of People since 2019 and holds several important positions at the Vatican that have led many observers to consider the cardinal “papabile,” meaning a possible candidate to be elected pope at the next conclave.

U.S. Bishops Silent On Moral Issue Of Climate Change

Newswise — According to a new study by professors and an alumna from Creighton University, the vast majority of U.S. Catholic bishops were silent about climate change around Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si’. The study also found bishops were denialist and biased about climate change in ways that correlate with conservative political identity/ideology.

The study, “U.S. Catholic bishops’ silence and denialism on climate change,” was published Oct. 19, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters. The authors examined more than 12,000 columns published from June 2014 to June 2019 by bishops in official publications for 171 of the 178 U.S. Catholic dioceses (representing 96% of all U.S. dioceses). Among the study’s findings:

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.8%, or 93 columns out of 12,077) mentioned “climate change,” “global warming,” or variations.

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.46%, or 56 columns out of 12,077) described climate change as something that is real or currently happening.

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.24%, or 29 columns out of 12,077) discussed climate change as something that is urgent.

74% of the 201 bishops in the study did not once mention climate change.

69% of the 171 dioceses studied did not publish a bishop’s column that mentioned climate change.

The study was conducted by Sabrina Danielsen, MA, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology; Daniel R. DiLeo, PhD, a Catholic theologian, associate professor, and director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program; and Emily E. Burke, BS, a 2021 undergraduate and current doctoral student in the joint Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The research shows U.S. Catholic bishops’ diocesan communications largely ignored Catholic teachings on climate change,” says Danielsen. “This is surprising given the climate crisis we’re in and indicates that the top U.S. Catholic leaders have not capitalized on the spark of Laudato Si’.”

When bishops did address climate change, they often downplayed parts of Laudato Si’ that conflict with a conservative political identity/ideology. The encyclical repeatedly calls for public policies to address climate change, while U.S. political conservatives often oppose climate policies. Among the 93 bishops’ columns that do mention climate change, only 14 columns (15%) reference climate change politics.

“Our data suggest that as individuals, U.S. bishops failed their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic faith that includes Church teaching on climate change,” says DiLeo. “Our findings also raise questions about whether U.S. bishops will support Vatican advocacy at the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in November. The U.S. Catholic Church has tremendous potential to shape climate policy, but this requires bishops’ commitment to justice as essential to the Church’s mission.”

The bishops also disproportionately prioritized social issues that correspond to conservative political identity/ideology. Laudato Si’ mentions climate change 24 times and mentions abortion once, but bishop columns addressed them with equal frequency when discussing the encyclical. Among the 211 columns that reference Laudato Si’, 59 mention climate change and 59 mention abortion or pro-life.

“Climate change is a deep concern for so many young people because it threatens every aspect of our future,” says Burke. “As a young Catholic, I want leaders who understand these hopes and anxieties and are willing to faithfully embrace Church climate change teaching.”

World’s Oldest Rubies Linked To Early Life

Newswise — While analyzing some of the world’s oldest coloured gemstones, researchers from the University of Waterloo discovered carbon residue that was once ancient life, encased in a 2.5 billion-year-old ruby.

The research team, led by Chris Yakymchuk, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Waterloo, set out to study the geology of rubies to better understand the conditions necessary for ruby formation. During this research in Greenland, which contains the oldest known deposits of rubies in the world, the team found a ruby sample that contained graphite, a mineral made of pure carbon. Analysis of this carbon indicates that it is a remnant of early life.

“The graphite inside this ruby is really unique. It’s the first time we’ve seen evidence of ancient life in ruby-bearing rocks,” says Yakymchuk. “The presence of graphite also gives us more clues to determine how rubies formed at this location, something that is impossible to do directly based on a ruby’s colour and chemical composition.”

The presence of the graphite allowed the researchers to analyze a property called isotopic composition of the carbon atoms, which measures the relative amounts of different carbon atoms. More than 98 per cent of all carbon atoms have a mass of 12 atomic mass units, but a few carbon atoms are heavier, with a mass of 13 or 14 atomic mass units.

“Living matter preferentially consists of the lighter carbon atoms because they take less energy to incorporate into cells,” said Yakymchuk. “Based on the increased amount of carbon-12 in this graphite, we concluded that the carbon atoms were once ancient life, most likely dead microorganisms such as cyanobacteria.”

The graphite is found in rocks older than 2.5 billion years ago, a time on the planet when oxygen was not abundant in the atmosphere, and life existed only in microorganisms and algae films.

During this study, Yakymchuk’s team discovered that this graphite not only links the gemstone to ancient life but was also likely necessary for this ruby to exist at all. The graphite changed the chemistry of the surrounding rocks to create favourable conditions for ruby growth. Without it, the team’s models showed that it would not have been possible to form rubies in this location.

The study, Corundum (ruby) growth during the final assembly of the Archean North Atlantic Craton, southern West Greenland, was recently published in Ore Geology Reviews. A companion study, The corundum conundrum: Constraining the compositions of fluids involved in ruby formation in metamorphic melanges of ultramafic and aluminous rocks, was published in the journal Chemical Geology in June.

Sukriti And Prakriti Kakkar Light Up Iconic Times Square Billboard In New York

Singing sisters Sukriti Kakkar and Prakriti Kakkar have rendered absolute magic to many melodies turning them into dreamy affairs with their ethereal voices. And now, the twins have made it to the famed New York Times Square billboard. The appearance comes as a part of an initiative that supports equity for women in music on the global canvas.

The two took to Instagram to share the news with their fans. They captioned the post, “YA GIRLS MADE IT TO A BILLBOARD IN TimesSquare ???? This day will always be remembered. #SuPraInNY ?? Thank you @spotify and @spotifyindia for making this possible! Big love to our @vyrloriginals fam and @bandbaaja ????”

Sukriti and Prakriti’s rendezvous with international acclaim happened earlier this year when the sisters collaborated with global musical sensation Dua Lipa. Their track, the Hindi remix version of ‘Levitating’ with Dua Lipa turned out to be an absolute blockbuster and topped the charts for several months.

Continuing the streak of international fame, the singing twins featured on the most coveted billboard. They featured alongside names such as Vladivojna La Chia, Maria Jose Llergo making them the only Indians to be a part of this list which comes across as a huge honour not just to both of them but also for the country and the Indian music fraternity.

Talking to IANS, an extremely elated Sukriti said, “There are dreams that one always sets out with, especially at the start of our careers. The Times Square billboard was surely always a part of that dream for us and seeing it come to life, it is a surreal moment for us.”

She adds that the fact they got featured on the billboard for an important cause is what makes it all the more special. “Apart from pinching ourselves, and actually seeing the image of us on the billboard, the fact that it is for a cause that is to encourage equity for women in music globally, makes it even more special”, she added.

For Prakriti, it’s about making a difference through their voice both literally and metaphorically, as she says, “Representation of women in music, locally as well as globally has reached an all new platform of equity. Women deserve to be paid as much as men, given the same treatment as male singers and this association was just to empower that.”

“It has made it to the most viewed billboard in the world, Times Square and we are so proud to be a part of this. As Indian artistes, and also as young women, it is important for one to always believe in equity in order to see it becoming our reality,” Prakriti concluded.

80,000-180,000 Health Workers Killed By Covid

Covid has severely affected healthcare staff and may have killed between 80,000 and 180,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. Healthcare workers must be prioritized for vaccines, WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, and he criticised unfairness in the distribution of jabs. The deaths occurred between January 2020 and May of this year. Earlier, another senior WHO official warned a lack of jabs could see the pandemic continue well into next year.  There are an estimated 135 million healthcare workers globally.

“Data from 119 countries suggest that on average, two in five healthcare workers globally are fully vaccinated,” Dr Tedros said.  “But of course, that average masks huge differences across regions and economic groupings.” Fewer than one in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, he said, compared with eight in 10 in high-income countries.  A failure to provide poorer countries with enough vaccines was highlighted earlier by Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior leader at the WHO, who said it meant the Covid crisis could “easily drag on deep into 2022”.

Less than 5% of Africa’s population have been vaccinated, compared with 40% on most other continents. The vast majority of Covid vaccines overall have been used in high-income or upper middle-income countries. Africa accounts for just 2.6% of doses administered globally.

The original idea behind Covax, the UN-backed global programme to distribute vaccines fairly, was that all countries would be able to acquire vaccines from its pool, including wealthy ones, writes BBC Global Affairs correspondent Naomi Grimley.

But most G7 countries decided to hold back once they started making their own one-to-one deals with pharmaceutical companies. Dr Aylward appealed to wealthy countries to give up their places in the queue for vaccines so that pharmaceutical companies can prioritise the lowest-income countries instead.

He said wealthy countries needed to “stocktake” where they were with their donation commitments made at summits such as the G7 meeting in St Ives this summer. “I can tell you we’re not on track,” he said. “We really need to speed it up or you know what? This pandemic is going to go on for a year longer than it needs to.”

The People’s Vaccine – an alliance of charities – has released new figures suggesting just one in seven of the doses promised by pharmaceutical companies and wealthy countries are actually reaching their destinations in poorer countries. The alliance, which includes Oxfam and UNAids, also criticised Canada and the UK for procuring vaccines for their own populations via Covax.

Biden Delays Release Of JFK Assassination Files

The White House said on October 22nd that it would delay the release of long-classified documents related to the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. President Joe Biden wrote in a statement that the remaining files “shall be withheld from full public disclosure” until December 15 next year — nearly 60 years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas in 1963.

In 2017, former president Donald Trump released several thousand secret files on the assassination, but withheld others on national security grounds. The White House said the national archivist needs more time for a review into that redaction, which was slowed by the pandemic.

Biden also said the delay was “necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations” and that this “outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure.”

The assassination of the 46-year-old president was a “profound national tragedy” that “continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day,” the statement said.

A 10-month investigation led by then-Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine who had lived in the Soviet Union, acted alone when he fired on Kennedy’s motorcade.

But the Commission’s investigation was criticized for being incomplete, with a Congressional committee later concluding that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

U.S. law requires that all government records on the assassination be disclosed “to enable the public to become fully informed.” The National Archives has released thousands of documents to the public as part of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, informally known as the JFK Act. The files are accessible online.

“Temporary continued postponement is necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure,” the president said.

Biden said some documents will be released on Dec. 15 of this year, but not earlier “out of respect for the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination,” which took place Nov. 22, 1963. The remaining documents will undergo an “intensive 1-year review” and be released by Dec. 15, 2022.

Under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records should have been publicly disclosed within 25 years – or by October 2017 – but postponements were allowed in instances that national security concerns outweighed the public interest in disclosure. The National Archives notes about 88 percent of the records have been released since the late 1990s.

Earlier this month, some members of Congress wrote to Biden urging him to fully release all of the JFK files, including 520 documents that remain withheld from the public and 15,834 documents that were previously released but are partially or mostly redacted. The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo of California, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Sara Jacobs of California, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

“Democracy requires that decisions made by the government be open to public scrutiny,” the lawmakers wrote. “Yet excessive secrecy surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination continues to inspire doubt in the minds of the American public and has a profound impact on the people’s trust in their government.”

Changes In Sex And Intimacy Among Single Indians In Covid Times

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions have changed dating for single Indians and shaped the way single people in India are approaching sex and intimacy. In its Intimacy in a Pandemic Report, Bumble, the women-first dating app and social networking platform, shows how partner priorities are also seeing a seismic shift.

There’s an increased openness towards sexual exploration among the dating app’s users globally right now as per the recent global survey conducted within the app. India had the highest percentage of Bumble users (34 per cent) who respond that they are more open to exploration when it comes to sex compared to the US, UK, Australia and Canada.

The app’s recent nationwide survey showed 65 per cent of single Indians claim the pandemic has changed their approach to sex and intimacy. More than one in three (37 per cent) people surveyed claim they are being more open to sharing their boundaries and desires with someone they are dating right now. About one in three (33 per cent) people have ‘locked down’ and started living with someone they met on a dating app since the second wave hit India in March 2021.

The new research and insights about the state of sex and intimacy for daters in India show:

Confidence levels are at an all-time high

The past year has been a time of reflection for singles to think about what they are looking for in a relationship. This time ultimately gave people an opportunity to define their relationship priorities and the confidence to take control of their dating lives.

Nearly half of Indians surveyed on Bumble (47 per cent) are feeling more confident about what they want and need from a sexual partner, and we’re also seeing an increased openness to sexual experimentation.

Over half of the users (60 per cent) surveyed in India indicated that they were looking to be more sexually active following ease in lockdown restrictions.

Compatibility is a top priority

The app’s latest research shows that daters are prioritizing compatibility now more than ever as people start dating IRL with increased confidence in what they are truly looking for in a sexual partner. People are also expressing an increased openness to communicating their boundaries and desires when it comes to sexual health and preferences.

More than one in three (37 per cent) people surveyed claim they are being more open to sharing their boundaries and desires with someone they are dating right now.

Over a quarter of Bumble users surveyed in India (26 per cent) indicated that they are planning to express their sexuality differently now compared to a year ago.

Bumble’s latest data indicates that there’s been a shift in the way people are approaching sex and intimacy in India with over half (51 per cent) of those surveyed responding that they are doing something different when it comes to sex and intimacy this year.

“We’re seeing a trend of single people in India being more intentional when it comes to dating, with over half of daters surveyed indicating that they are focused on trying to find a partner that’s right for them. In fact, 13 per cent of our Bumble community in India responded that they’ve added more steps to screen potential partners. People are more intentional now when they interact with potential partners and focused on compatibility. We are excited to see how the Bumble community expresses their newfound confidence in their dating journeys as restrictions ease across the country,” shares Samarpita Samaddar, Communications Director, Bumble India.

U.S. Passport Renewals Are Taking Months

Last spring, Tera Wages was looking forward to a mid-July trip to Casa Chameleon Hotel in Costa Rica when a friend happened to mention the U.S. passport renewal process, which has been suffering delays during the pandemic. Wages panicked, realizing she hadn’t checked the expiration date on her own passport. “You could have sucked the air out of the room in that moment,” she says.

Sure enough, both Wages’s and her partner’s passports had expired during the pandemic. Wages immediately sent them off to USPS, four weeks before they were set to depart—exactly the time the U.S. Department of State said passport renewals were estimated to take back in the spring. But mere days prior to scheduled travel, the Alabama-based couple was still passport-less, despite herculean efforts to secure an in-person agency appointment through a case worker assigned to them by Congressman Mo Brooks’s office.

“Ultimately we realized our case worker was not able to make anything happen,” Wages says. “We’d spent hours refreshing the page to get appointments, and nothing was becoming available. We decided there was no way [we could still go on the trip].”

Situations like Wages’s are common right now, with many Americans being forced to cancel international trips due to expired passports, and a long and frustrating renewal process. Though travel agents have always recommended giving the government a few months to process a U.S. passport renewal, the timeline is now much more complicated. Processing times are currently up to three times longer for both routine and expedited passport renewal services compared to before the pandemic.

Due to a huge influx of requests as the world reopens, travelers who need to renew (either in person or via mail) will have to allow extra time to do so. The best advice? Check your passport expiration date now—whether you have a trip planned or are just dreaming of one—and don’t forget many international destinations require your passport to be valid for six months from your planned return date to the United States.

We tapped travel experts to answer common questions about U.S. passport renewal right now. Read on for the advice, including what to do if you have an upcoming trip.

How long are passport renewals taking right now?

“We’ve seen varying timelines, but generally the passport renewal process can take anywhere from four to 18 weeks via mail, with in-person meetings even harder to come by,” says John Spence, USA president for luxury tour operator Scott Dunn. The government’s passport renewal website says travelers should be prepared to wait up to 18 weeks from the day their mailed-in passport reaches a processing facility.

Any travelers who can provide proof of necessary urgent travel, such as life-or-death emergencies, or can show that their trip is within 72 hours, though, are given the chance to score an in-person appointment, Spence says. “However, we wouldn’t count on this unless it’s a last resort,” he adds.

If you are able to get an in-person appointment at one of the government’s 26 passport agencies or centers in the country, a passport agent will review your application and potentially issue a passport on the spot, if you’re eligible for one. Or, the agent may ask you to return at a specific time to receive it, depending on the agency, their workload, and the date of anticipated travel.

Appointments at these centers have been so scarce, however, and in such high demand, that some who’ve been able to secure one have taken to selling them illegally to other travelers. Wages says that in researching how to get appointments online in their attempt to continue with their Costa Rica trip, they discovered users on Reddit who would post appointments for sale—starting around $200—as soon as someone canceled or more spots opened up.

In a briefing on July 14, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt addressed the situation, condemning this behavior. “We are aware of the issues and we are working to prevent them,” she said. “The Department of State does not charge a fee to solely book an emergency appointment at one of our agencies or centers, so if anyone receives a request for payment for scheduling a U.S. passport appointment, that should be considered fraudulent.”

As a result, on July 21 the Department of State temporarily disabled the online appointment booking system for urgent travel service. No timeframe was specified as to when online booking for appointments will open back up. In the meantime, you must call to make an appointment (though Traveler editors have been unable to get through in recent days, with the call dropping off after the initial menu).

Note that the above measure only applies to the 26 passport agencies in the country, and not the many passport acceptance centers—found in libraries, post offices, and local government offices—which continue to take online appointments. Wait times at passport acceptance centers are aligned with mail-in timelines, meaning the process can take up to 18 weeks once you’ve had your appointment and your passport has reached the federal government. Find a passport acceptance center near you here.

What to do if you need a passport, fast

If not being able to renew your passport could mean cancellation of a major trip, it makes sense you might consider extreme measures to score an appointment—even if that means paying for one. However, Spence says he’d never recommend illegally purchasing an appointment. “Although it’s tedious, we always advise going through the official application and renewal process through your local passport agency,” he says.

One creative way to potentially move quickly through the official channels? Contact your local representative, including the office of your U.S. senator or congressional representative, and ask for help getting an appointment, says Bahar Schmidt, founder and CEO of high-end travel resale marketplace Eluxit. She says that a client set to travel to Mexico realized last minute that their passport was expired. With travel in two days and no luck booking an appointment with the Department of State, they contacted their government representative and were able to get assistance—and continue with their planned trip, fresh passport in hand.

“I would probably recommend that route,” Schmidt says.”Reaching out to anyone who may [be able to] help in a crisis is worth a try.” Every district is different, so you’ll need to do some research to find the right person to call; more than likely, though, it will be your U.S. congressional representative who might be able to help in the eleventh hour. That said, it’s not a guarantee that lawmakers in either the House or Senate will be able to assist in a timely manner, as Wages experienced with her caseworker.

Of course, if you’re in panic mode and willing to throw money at the problem, there are always third-party passport services you can pay to handle your renewal. Throughout the summer, many passport application and renewal services—some of which traditionally advertise 24-hour turnarounds—have posted notices to customers that they cannot guarantee rapid renewals, though some are advertising wait times shorter than the government’s. RushMyPassport is a service Traveler staffers have used for a guaranteed 4-week return time, for $189. Another, GenVisa, says they will be able to offer passport renewals within 7 to 10 business days beginning in early August for $370.

What about the government’s expedited service?

During COVID, the government temporarily suspended expedited passport processing for customers applying at acceptance facilities or renewing passports via mail. However, expedited service resumed in September 2020. You can pay an additional $60 to receive your passport renewal faster; however, the turnaround time is also delayed and may take up to 12 weeks.

What should I expect if I renew by mail?

Mailing your passport without knowing when it may be returned is daunting. But within seven to 10 business days of mailing it, you should be able to track your application status through this page. Enter your last name, date of birth, last four digits of your social security number, and a security code.

Always take a photo of your passport before sending it in for renewal, says Spence. “If your passport happens to get lost in the mail, you at least have a copy to refer to, and this will save you additional time and effort to renew it.”

If the worst happens and you can’t get a passport in time, you can always book a domestic trip instead. Wages, who is still passport-less, ended up booking a weekend getaway to The Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach with her husband. Though she says the experience was a “10 out of 10,” it was still a consolation to the international vacation they didn’t get to take. Still, Wages acknowledges it could have been worse. “We’re fortunate our [travel] was not an emergency and that we have the privilege to be able to reschedule and plan again,” she says. “But for people who don’t have that ability, it would be really tough.”

India Slips To 101st Spot In Global Hunger Index 2021

India slipped to 101st position in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 of 116 countries and is behind neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In 2020, India was ranked 94th out of 107 countries.

The report, prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organization Welt Hunger Hilfe, termed the level of hunger in India “alarming”. India’s GHI score has also decelerated — from 38.8 in 2000 to the range of 28.8 – 27.5 between 2012 and 2021.

The GHI score is calculated on four indicators — undernourishment; child wasting (the share of children under the age of five who low weight for their height); child stunting (children under the age of five who have low height for their age) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five).

The share of wasting among children in India rose from 17.1% between 1998-2002 to 17.3% between 2016-2020, according to the report. “People have been severely hit by COVID-19 and by pandemic related restrictions in India, the country with highest child wasting rate worldwide,” the report said.

However, India has shown improvement in other indicators such as the under-5 mortality rate, prevalence of stunting among children and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food, the report said.

A total of only 15 countries — Papua New Guinea (102), Afghanistan (103), Nigeria (103), Congo (105), Mozambique (106), Sierra Leone (106), Timor-Leste (108), Haiti (109), Liberia (110), Madagascar (111), Democratic Republic of Congo (112), Chad (113), Central African Republic (114), Yemen (115) and Somalia (116) — fared worse than India this year.

A total of 18 countries, including China, Kuwait and Brazil, shared the top rank with GHI score of less than five, the GHI website that tracks hunger and malnutrition across countries reported last week.

According to the report, the share of wasting among children in India rose from 17.1 per cent between 1998-2002 to 17.3 per cent between 2016-2020, “People have been severely hit by COVID-19 and by pandemic related restrictions in India, the country with highest child wasting rate worldwide,” the report said.

Neighboring countries like Nepal (76), Bangladesh (76), Myanmar (71) and Pakistan (92), which are still ahead of India at feeding its citizens, are also in the ‘alarming’ hunger category.

However, India has shown improvement in indicators like the under-5 mortality rate, prevalence of stunting among children and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food, the report said.

Stating that the fight against hunger is dangerously off track, the report said based on the current GHI projections, the world as a whole — and 47 countries in particular — will fail to achieve even a low level of hunger by 2030.

“Although GHI scores show that global hunger has been on the decline since 2000, progress is slowing. While the GHI score for the world fell 4.7 points, from 25.1 to 20.4, between 2006 and 2012, it has fallen just 2.5 points since 2012. After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment — one of the four indicators used to calculate GHI scores — is increasing. This shift may be a harbinger of reversals in other measures of hunger,” the report said.

Food security is under assault on multiple fronts, the report said, adding that worsening conflict, weather extremes associated with global climate change, and the economic and health challenges associated with Covid-19 are all driving hunger.

“Inequality — between regions, countries, districts, and communities — is pervasive and, (if) left unchecked, will keep the world from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) mandate to “leave no one behind,” it said.

India’s wholesale price index (WPI)-based inflation remained in double-digits for the sixth consecutive month in September, though at 10.66% it was lower than 11.39% in August.

Food inflation contracted 4.69% in September compared with a 1.29% fall a month ago, while that of manufactured products rose to 11.41% from 11.39% in August.

The sharp contraction in food prices was mainly due to easing vegetable prices though price of pulses continued to spike at 9.42%. Retail inflation in September also slowed to a five-month low of 4.4% due to moderating food prices.

Fuel’s a concern

The inflation in the fuel and power basket was 24.91% in September, against 26.09% in the previous month. The rise in crude petroleum and natural gas prices was 43.92% in September over 40.03% in the previous month.

Fuel is likely to keep pinching in the days ahead. After two days of lull, petrol and diesel prices were again hiked by 35 paise per litre on Thursday, sending retail pump prices to their highest ever level across the country.  This is the 13th time that petrol price has been hiked in two weeks while diesel rates have gone up 16 times in three weeks.

Shortages, High Prices Likely During Holiday Season

Newswise — Despite President Biden’s announcement of round-the-clock operations at key West Coast ports and expanded operations by the likes of Walmart and UPS – plus pledging further federal government efforts — to alleviate the U.S. supply chain backlog, Maryland Smith supply chain expert Martin Dresner says federal government involvement will be most effective long term — through infrastructure spending.

“The President is proposing making better use of our current infrastructure by increasing working hours and spreading business more evenly throughout the day,” says Dresner, professor and chair of the logistics, business and public policy department at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. 

“Although this may help at the margin, there is only limited warehouse, rail and trucking capacity,” he adds. “It is difficult to expand this capacity in the short run. Although the backlogs will eventually work their way out of the system, this may take some time. It is unlikely that the backlogs will be alleviated by the holiday season.”

Dresner, also an associate editor for the Journal of Business Logistics, points to the complexity of the current supply chain problems. Significantly, the pandemic “created increased demand for products shipped from Asia that arrive via container at major U.S. ports, putting pressure on shipping, port, truck and rail capacity.”

In the meantime, work rules designed to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and some port shutdowns reduced the throughput of the shipping industry — especially in Asia, he says. “This was coupled with a decline in the workforce as people retired and quit lower-paying jobs, including transportation and warehousing positions. And, finally, government policies pumped considerable cash into the economy increasing consumer spending, thereby further increasing demand for consumer goods.”

Regarding the federal government’s role in solving the crisis, Biden this week said, “If federal support is needed, I’ll direct all appropriate action, and if the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re going to call them out and ask them to act.”

But Dresner, in response, says such federal support is best channeled through infrastructure spending: “The Biden Administration has plans to spend on infrastructure. In the long run, better infrastructure should improve the functionality of supply chains.”

In the short run, “the Administration should leave it to businesses to work out the backlogs, he adds. “Prices are already adjusting and these prices will cause adjustments in consumer demand. And higher interest rates, should they be forthcoming, will also curtail consumer demand.” However, Dresner cautions that the Biden Administration and the Fed “need to tread a fine line.”

“If interest rates are too low and too much money is pumped into the economy, consumer demand could stoke inflation,” he says. “If rates are hiked too quickly and government spending is curtailed, then we could get pushed into a recession.”

Floods In Kerala Devastate Life, Properties

After heavy rains triggered a series of landslides in Kerala, residents of the particularly hard-hit areas of Kottayam and Idukki districts are reeling under the devastation. A large number of people residing in some of the affected villages have been displaced from their homes and forced to relocate to rehabilitation camps. So far, the death toll has reached 27, PTI reported.

Torrential rain has battered the coastal state of Kerala last week, causing rivers to swell and flooding roads that left vehicles submerged in muddy waters, with some houses reduced to rubble.

State Revenue Minister K Rajan said the rescue workers have recovered 15 bodies from the debris of the landslides on Saturday. “The rescue workers have recovered 15 bodies till now. This includes 12 bodies from Koottickal in Kottayam, one body from Peerumedu and two which were recovered yesterday from Kanjar in Idukki district,” PTI quoted Rajan as saying.

Rescue efforts have continued since Saturday, with the Indian army, navy and air force assisting. The National Disaster Response Force has deployed 11 teams across south and central parts of Kerala.

At least 27 people have been killed after heavy rain triggered floods and landslides in southern India. Thirteen people were killed in a landslide in the Kottayam district, according to state officials. Nine bodies have also been recovered from the site of another landslide in the district of Idduki, officials said, adding that two people are still unaccounted for. Three fishermen in the Malappuram district also remain missing.

Five children are among the dead. There are fears the death toll could rise further as many people are missing. Several houses were washed away and people became trapped in the district of Kottayam in Kerala state.

Military helicopters are being used to fly in supplies and personnel to areas where people are trapped, officials said. Thousands of people have been evacuated and 184 relief camps have been set up across the state, where over 8,000 people are being provided food, bedding and clothing.

The government has also announced financial aid for those who have lost houses and crops. It has decided to leave the decision of whether various dams in the state should be opened to an expert committee.

In 2018, some 400 people died when heavy rains flooded the state. There was controversy over the fact that dams were opened without any warning to people living in low-lying areas. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the committee will decide which dams need to be opened.

“District collectors will be notified hours before opening the dams so that local people have enough time to evacuate,” his office said in a statement.

Meanwhile, India’s meteorological department has predicted heavy, isolated rainfall in the state for up to four more days.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that he had spoken to Mr Vijayan about the situation. “It is sad that many people have died due to the heavy rains and landslides in Kerala. My condolences to the bereaved families,” Mr Modi wrote.

Officials from Alleppey city told BBC Hindi that the situation in the city was worrying. Alleppey has a network of canals and lagoons and it is vulnerable to flooding.

Meanwhile, several tragic stories are coming out from the affected districts.

A family of six – including a 75-year-old grandmother and three children – were confirmed dead after their home in Kottayam was swept away, news agency PTI reported.

Fishing boats are being used to evacuate survivors trapped in Kollam and other coastal towns, as sections of road have been swept away and trees uprooted. It is not uncommon for heavy rainfall to cause flooding and landslides in Kerala, where wetlands and lakes that once acted as natural safeguards against floods have disappeared because of increasing urbanisation and construction.

The 2018 floods were the worst in Kerala in a century, and displaced more than one million people. An assessment carried out by the federal government that same year found that the state, which has 44 rivers flowing through it, was among the 10 most vulnerable in India to flooding

Dr. V. K. Raju Receives Excellence in Medicine Award from GOPIO – Virginia Launches UK Chapter of The Eye Foundation To Prevent Childhood Blindness

Dr. Vadrevu K. Raju, a renowned ophthalmologist, president and founder of the Eye Foundation of America was awarded with the Excellence in Medicine Award by GOPIO – Virginia on Sunday October 3rd, 2021.

Dr. V.K. Raju, who was born in Rajahmundry, AP, India, is a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at West Virginia University, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Director of the International Ocular Surface Society, Director of the Ocular Surface Research and Education Foundation, Chairman of Goutami Eye Institute in Rajahmundry and is the President and Founder of the Eye Foundation of America, a non-profit organization dedicated to realizing a world without childhood blindness.

Dr. Raju who was recently appointed to the Faculty of Department of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University recently, traveled to London last month to chair the first Board Meeting of The Eye Foundation of America (UK).

Dr. Raju said, “A new beginning has been done in UK for the Eye Foundation. During a dinner meeting with the Board of Directors and the friends of The Eye Foundation of America (UK), I was encouraged by the warmth and enthusiasm shown by many about the nature and extent of the work the Eye Foundation has been carrying on across the globe, working tirelessly to make the world without childhood blindness.

The Foundation was fortunate to have Uzbekistan Ambassador, H.E Said Rustamov as an hnored guest. Dr. Raju was a special guest at the Embassy of Uzbekistan and had attended Uzbekistan’s 30th Independence Day celebrations at Lords.

Dr. Raju expressed gratitude to all the Board members of the Foundation in UK, particularly, Ashwini Misro, Radhika Misro, and Raj Koppada for their enthusiasm and generosity in helping realize the mission of the Eye Foundation in preventing and treating childhood blindness and beyond in Uzbekistan.

Dr. V.K. Raju’s crusade for the past four decades has been to achieve his vision of a world without avoidable blindness. Since 1979, the Eye Foundation of America has expanded its reach to over 25 countries, screened millions of patients, and provided hundreds of thousands of surgeries. As Dr. Raju points out, prevention is more beneficial than disease management, and lifestyle changes can be preventive. His organization’s programs, which aim at prevention through education and lifestyle modifications, include the 100,000 Lives campaign in India and the WV Kids Farmer’s Market Program in West Virginia.

In 1977, he began traveling home to India to offer his services as an ophthalmologist to those who could not afford, or access, desperately needed eye care. The Eye Foundation of America founded by an Indian-American physician, is entering a new phase in its mission of ending avoidable blindness by collaborating with GAPIO (Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) and AAPI (American Association of Physicians of India Origin).

These preventive services and medical and surgical interventions were delivered in the form of eye camps in the early days, and the EFA was initially founded to allow for easier transfer of state-of-the-art equipment and medicine from the United States to India. As the Foundation matured, it became so much more. The EFA is now a global organization responsible for treating millions of patients, performing hundreds of thousands of surgeries, and training hundreds of eye care professionals to join in the global fight against preventable blindness.

The EFA’s work spans 30 countries over several continents. One focus of current outreach efforts is in the prevention of diabetes. Diabetes-related complications typically strike during the prime of life and include the development of cataracts at an earlier age than normal, a two-fold increased risk of glaucoma, and small blood vessel damage (i.e., diabetic retinopathy). Retinopathy can cause blindness; however, early detection and treatment can prevent blindness in up to 90% of cases. The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 20% of the diabetic world population resides in India, approximately 61.3 million diabetics.

In 2018, 34.2 million Americans had diabetes. There are 229,000 people with diabetes in West Virginia and 8.3% of adults are borderline diabetic. West Virginia is ranked the #2 state for deaths involving diabetes. According to Dr. Raju, the prevalence of diabetes among Indians in India and West Virginians in the United States continues to rise rapidly, and in many ways, the diabetes epidemic in West Virginia is similar to that of India, as the populations share similar characteristics: they tend to be rural, poor, and underserved. Born in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, Raju earned his medical degree from Andhra University and completed an ophthalmology residency and fellowship at the Royal Eye Group of Hospitals in London.

Dr. VK Raju was among the class of 2017 inductees into the University of Toledo Global Medical Missions Hall of Fame, the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North America Telegu Society. Dr. Raju has published two books, seventeen chapters, and over 100 publications in scientific journals.

Dr. Raju has received numerous awards, including the AMA Foundation Nathan Davis Excellence in Medicine International Award, Four Time Awardee by The American Academy of Ophthalmology, Martin Luther King Jr Achievement Award from WVU, Distinguished Community Service Award from AAPI (American Association of Physicians from India), Pride of the Pride Award from Lions International District 29, Vaidya Ratna (conferred by Shankaracharya of Kanchi), Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Ophthalmologists of Indian Origin, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the WV State Medical Association.

Heart Disease Among South Asians Is Focus of AAPI Webinar

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and the nation spends over $500 billion on cardiovascular disease each year. Studies have shown that immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are experiencing a dramatic rise in heart disease. South Asians make up 25 per cent of the world’s population but they contribute 50 per cent to global cardiovascular deaths.

In this context, as part of an ongoing awareness and education campaign about high risk heart disease in South Asians, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) the largest ethnic medical organization in the United States presented two eminent speakers and experts, Dr. Enas Enas and Dr. Amit Kera, discussing ways to create awareness on Heart Disease Among South Asians during a webinar on Saturday, October 16th, 2021.

In her welcome address, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President of AAPI, said, ” Today is World Restart a Heart Day. Today’s conference is being organized to educate and create awareness about the major health issue faced by South Asians and offer ways to mitigate Heart Disease.” Referring to the American Heart Association, Dr. Gotimukula pointed out that approximately 70 percent of Cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital. “Sudden Cardiac Arrest could be due to multiple reasons. Today’s CME is focused on Recent Advances in South Asian Heart Disease by 2 eminent Indian Americans who are in the forefront of research on this deadly disease.

In his lengthy and detailed presentation with anecdotes from his personal experiences in studying and treating patients with cardio issues, Dr. Enas Enas, provided a broader perspective on the “History and Magnitude of Heart Disease Among South Asians.” Sharing with the audience, how, during his early practice of Medicine, his personal experiences inspired him to get engaged in the research, treatment and prevention, dedicating his life for the cause of heart disease.

Dr. Enas referred to several research/studies around the world, showing high prevalence of CAD among Indians. “Indians have a big problem with premature heart disease,” Dr. Enas said and pointed out that 185,000 people of South Asian origin die of heart disease per year as against 15,000 Whites die of the same health issue. While referring to Mitigating Risk Factors, Dr. Enas recommended Indians to follow the American Heart Association developed Life Simple 7 with additional requirement for exercise and maintaining sugar level below 140.

Dr. Enas Enas, a cardiologist from Chicago and also Director of CADI  Coronary artery disease in Indians ) presented a historical perspective as to why the south Asians and especially, Indians have such high risk for heart disease, starting at very young age. Dr. Enas emphasized that traditional factors do not capture the entire risk and suggested that genetics especially LPA plays equally important role and advised all south Asians to get measurement of LP (a) at least once  in their life starting at young age.

A true pioneer, Dr. Enas is the first cardiologist to sound the alarm on the strikingly high rates and malignant nature of heart disease among Indians in the US and around the globe Dr. Enas is the first cardiologist to sound the alarm on the epidemic of coronary artery disease among Indians worldwide. As the principal investigator of the landmark CADI Study, he scientifically proved a 3-4 fold high rate of coronary artery disease among immigrants from India to the United States. He is also the first physician to identify and report a genetic predisposition to CAD in Asian Indians, mediated through lipoprotein(a) – a genetic variant of LDL cholesterol.

Dr. Amit Kera, a new rising star in Preventive Cardiology, built on that argument and presented genomic data to fill the gap and also pointed out that usual risk scoring has been done on Caucasians and cannot be extrapolated to south Asians. He advocated for the need for our own data  base and especially genomic data to go beyond coronary calcium score and use “ Polygenic score,” which can predict even  more accurately the risk of heart disease individually what he calls “Precision Medicine,” a futuristic concept, which he is working on as Associate Director at prestigious Broad institute affiliated with MIT and Harvard. Pointing to international studies that point to prevalence of Cardiovascular diseases high among South Asians, he said, Diabetes is diagnosed four times more among the Asians in comparison with Europeans.

Dr. Khera is a physician-scientist with expertise in epidemiology, clinical medicine, and human genetics. Among his scientific contributions, he developed a new approach to quantify genetic risk for common diseases, as well as the biomarkers that provide new biologic insights, and analyzed large-scale gene sequencing data to highlight key pathways underlying risk for coronary artery disease. His research program uses genetic variation as a tool to uncover new biology and enable enhanced clinical care informed by inherited susceptibility. He serves as the Associate Director, Precision Medicine Unit, Center for Genomic Medicine, MGH; Associate Director, Cardiovascular Disease Initiative, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Instructor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; and, Cardiologist, Corrigan Minehan Heart Center, MGH.

Dr. Brahma Sharma, Senior Faculty at the University of Pittsburgh affiliated Medical Center,  a co-host and moderator of the event, said, “While we are still trying to figure out different mechanisms for this enigma, that should not prevent but rather motivate to follow more aggressively life style modifications and pre-empt and prevent this silent epidemic that is taking a toll on young Indians and South Asians globally.” Dr. Sharma who is serving as the Chair of AAPI South Asian Heart Disease Committee and as the Chair AHA/ AAPI Liaison.

Dr. Amit Chakrbarty, who was a co-host and moderated the discussions, said, “In addition to educational webinars, we also plan to take this knowledge to grass root level via conducting mini- health screening camps across different cities with help of local AAPI chapters throughout USA and invite Global South Asian diaspora to join hands in this mission to prevent heart attacks and save lives.”

In her concluding remarks, urging the need for “Prevention is better than cure,” Dr. Gotimukula said, “Heart disease is the number one Global Public Health problem. South Asians are at a four-times greater risk of heart disease than their western counterparts and have a greater chance of having a heart attack before 50 years of age. Heart attacks strike South Asian Men and Women at younger ages, and as a result, both morbidity and mortality are higher among them compared to any other ethnic group. They tend to develop heart disease ten years earlier than other groups. Efforts to raise awareness of heart disease and promote “Healthy Heart” lifestyles is essential.”  For more information on AAPI and its programs, please visit: www.aapiusa.org

AAPI’s Panel Discussion Explores Ways To “End Domestic Violence”

An international web-conference on Ways to Prevent Domestic Violence, with renowned speakers from across the United States and India was organized by the Women’s Committee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) on Sunday, October 17th, 2021.

Describing Domestic Violence as “a serious public health concern” Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President of AAPI, in her welcome address said, “October is Domestic Awareness Month. Nearly one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. have experienced physical violence at the hands of their domestic partners, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The very important discussion today with an experts panel is aimed at helping AAPI members and the larger society to learn on ways to help promote healthy, respectful and nonviolent relationships.”

Dr. Seema Arora, past AAPI BOT Chair and currently serving as AAPI Women’s Committee Chair, introduced the panelists, and explained the significance of the Color Purple, which is a symbol of courage. Setting the stage and the context for this very important area of concern, Dr. Arora said, “October is ‘Domestic Violence Awareness’ month.  AAPI women’s physicians committee is trying to increase awareness towards this very prevalent but subdued age old problem that can affect any gender, race, region & socio-economic strata in a panel discussion with renowned panelists from around the world.”

Lata Rao, a Domestic Violence Survivor and Domestic Violence Advocate, referring briefly to her life in the past, focused more on her efforts to prevent domestic violence.  Describing her past and the “most dreadful events” she had experienced in her life, impacting her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, she said, “I wanted to do something for myself” starting her own business which was resented by her ex- spouse.  “I encourage women not to be what I went through” but to be more independent. She told the audience how meeting with mentors and having a support system gradually changed her life, while forgiving and staying positive helped me start a new phase in her life. “Today, I use my experiences as a tool to support and educate other women,” Ms. Rao said.

Dr. Preeti Saran, Domestic Violence Survivor and currently practicing Family Medicine & Obesity Specialist at RNJ Barnabas Hospital, New Jersey, pointed out that Domestic Violence is prevalent in all parts of the world. Sharing her own life’s challenges and abuses, Dr. Saran said, “Coming from very traditional society back in India, initially I thought it was happening to me because of my background.” Married to a dominant person, who was demanding, but suspicious and with trust issues, she had suffered immensely with insecurity and complexities of married life with intimidation and fearful for her own life. But she was able to turn her life around and has made a positive impact in the society. “Now, I am to reach out to other women who need support,” she said.

Dr. Meher Medavaram, a member of AAPI’s Women’s Committee introduced Deanne Mazzochi, Illinois State Representative, Attorney Life Science Law.  Rep. Mazzochi shared with the audience about her work as a state legislator and as an attorney who works with women and families, ensuring the safety of those in DV situations. She described the many laws and legal systems that are available to victims of DV in the state of Illinois. She advocated that one should “ensure that you have a safe place to live,” if and when you want to leave an unhealthy relationship.

Dr. Manju Sheth, an Internist, practicing Medicine at Beth Israel Lahey, MA, Chair and Advisory Board Member at SAHELI, Member of Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, President of “Women Who Win,” urged fellow physicians “to stay vigilant and collaborate” and look for signs/red flags to identify violence “as the patients can present with a multitude of unrelated symptoms that only compassionate questions can reveal clearly.”

“Women are very reluctant to speak to you and we often notice PTSD, trauma, depression and anxiety.” She told the Fellow physicians to be prepared to collaborate with: Medical, Psychological professionals and refer for services. Dr. Sheth pointed to SAHELI, a very well known organization for its work, providing psychiatric and other services to victims of DV in the Boston region.

Dr. Saraswati Muppana while introducing Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti wanted to know the role of media in supporting survivors of DV. Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti, drawing from her own personal experiences told about the powerful medium of the Media, which has been instrumental and can be used an effective tool to educate the society about the impact of and to prevent Domestic Violence.

Dr. Malti Mehta, who has worked with “Battered Women” introduced Dr. Nandita Palshetkar Chair of GAPIO Women’s Forum and Medical Director, IVF & Infertility Centers, India and serving as the President of Federation of OB/GYN Society of India. Dr. Palshetkar shared her insights and offered a global perspective and how the pandemic has contributed to increase in incidents of Domestic Violence. “Nearly one third of women across the world face Shadow Pandemic Domestic Violence.”

Dr. Udhaya Shivangi, AAPI Mississippi Chapter president, in her remarks said, “The best way to fight this issue is to talk about it, create awareness and share resources to recognize the signs and take steps for prevention and protection. ASHIANA is one such organization that helps empower domestic violence survivors to achieve self sufficiency with a culturally sensitive approach for the past 25 years helping South Asians in USA.

“The best way is to create awareness and provide resources and help lead the victims of Domestic Violence to be strong and independent and safe,” said Jaya Nelliot, a Board Member and Outreach Director of ASHIANA has been passionate about serving the community, and been actively involved with ASHIANA since 2009. Describing DV as a “pandemic,” she provided an introduction to the mission of and the broad spectrum of work ASHIANA does among South Asians in the North America.

Dr. Hetal Gor, a member of AAPI Women’s Committee  introduced Navneet Bhalla, International Human Rights Law, UK and the Executive Director of Manavi Women’s Organization, NJ. Bhalla spoke about the legal support with an in-house staff attorney being provided by MANAVI to victims of Domestic Violence in its 35 year long history in the United Kingdom. Drawing from personal experiences, how often abusers frame and falsely charge victims as criminals and threaten deportation. “MANAVI supports such victims and help them gain justice and needed services. We take a survivor-center approach to understand and to provide support them holistically,” she said. For more information on AAPI and its programs, please visit: www.aapiusa.org

IAPC Expresses Grief & Condolences At the Passing Away Of Easo Jacob

“Indo American Press Club is shocked and wants to extend our heartfelt condolences on the sudden passing away Easo Jacob, an active member of the Indo-American Press Club Advisory Board and the first President of the Houston Chapter of IAPC. The death of Easo Jacob, the Vice-Chairman of the International Media Conference held in Houston in 2019, is a great loss to IAPC and the media fraternity of Indian Americans,” said Dr. Joseph M. Chalil, Chairmaan of  IAPC here.

Easo Jacob had served as a Director Board Member of IAPC, as a National Executive Vice President, Vice Chair of IAPC international Media Conference in 2019 and as the President of IAPC Houston Chapter.

“Easo’s contributions to the media world and to IAPC has been enormous. He was instrumental in organizing a Seminar on Risk Management for Journalists, several journalism workshops, and the Presidential Election Debate only a few which showed Easo Jacob’s unparalleled ability to organize successful events. The untimely death of Easo Jacob is a great loss for the media world,” said IAPC president Dr. S.S Lal.

IAPC Founding Chairman Ginsmon Zachariah said, “The death of Easo Jacob, who had been with the organization since its inception, has shocked everyone at IAPC and the media woirld, in addition to the larger communtiy.  The contributions of Easo Jacob for the growth of IAPC cannot be overlooked. Also, I have come to know of his professionalism in the media world, while I was working with him during his tenure as the Resident Editor of Asian Era and Managing Editor of Aksharam Magazine.” As per Mr. Zachariah, his sudden death is a huge loss to IAPC, the Indian American media and the Malayalee community in North America.

“Easo Jacob’s death is an irreparable loss to IAPC,” Dr. Matthew Joyce, Vice Chair of IAPC BOD said. Mathewkutty Easo and Regie Phillip, other members of the IAPC leadership recall that Easo Jacob had become closely associated with IAPC and its members during his tenure as the vice chairman of the media conference in Houston in 2019. They lauded his leadership, commitment and journalistic skills. Through Malayala Manorajyam, a news magazine launched in 1988 in Houston, Easo contributed to the media industry and the larger Malayelee community.

Kottayam Vazhoor Chungathil Parampil family member Easo Jacob, who has been in the US for 37 years, had completed his postgraduate degree from SB College, Changanassery and was an alumnus of CMS College, Kottayam and NSS College, Vazhoor. Easo died on Friday, October 15th due to health related issues.

Corporations Influence Policy Through Nonprofit Donations

Newswise — In 2003, the Coca-Cola Foundation announced a $1 million donation to the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry, supposedly to “improve child dental health.” Shortly after receiving the gift, the children’s dental group changed its stance on sugary beverages, no longer calling them a “significant factor” in causing cavities, but instead saying the scientific evidence was “not clear.”

Coincidence? A study co-authored by Berkeley Haas researchers provides the first convincing evidence that not only do nonprofits change their stances in response to corporate donations, but that government agencies change their rules alongside them.

“If it had no impact, why would corporations do it?” said study co-author Matilde Bombardini, associate professor of Business and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business. “The bigger question has been whether you have evidence showing that impact.”

Published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the paper shows that corporate influence peddling through nonprofit donations is effective in influencing policy. The authors include Francesco Trebbi of Berkeley Haas, Marianne Bertrand of Chicago Booth, Raymond Fisman of Boston University, and Brad Hackinen of Western University Ivey School of Business (Canada).

Influencing rules and regulations

The thousands of government rules and regulations governing corporate behavior may seem obscure at times, but they have direct impact on people’s lives, Bombardini says. “They cover the environment, highways, aviation, health—issues that are very, very close to consumers and workers.”

As policies are hashed out, nonprofits often play an important role, balancing corporate interests by speaking on behalf of citizens and the environment. But what happens when they start speaking on behalf of their corporate donors instead? The researchers scraped data for hundreds of thousands of rules, proposed rules, and comments posted by the federal government since 2003 and compared those rules with detailed data on corporate foundations grants filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Similarities in language

They found a direct correlation between donations and the likelihood that nonprofits spoke up about a rule: A nonprofit was 76% more likely to comment on a proposed rule in the year after it received a donation from a corporation commenting on the same rule. And frequency wasn’t the only thing connected to money. The researchers used natural language processing to compare comments from the donor companies and the nonprofits, and found that after a nonprofit received a donation, the language it used in its comments was significantly closer to the language used by the company.

In addition, the language the government used in describing how and why the rule changed also became more similar to the corporate line—implying that regulators weighted the comments by the nonprofit more heavily in their deliberation process. “At a minimum, regulators are paying more attention to what the firm has to say, and devoting more time towards discussing the same kinds of issues the firm was discussing in their letters,” said Bombardini.

Adding transparency

While it certainly appears that companies are “buying” favorable comments to help their case, the researchers allow that it’s possible they are just funding nonprofits that already agree with them, allowing the nonprofits more resources for public advocacy. That distinction hardly matters in the outcome, however. “Either way, they are distorting the information policy makers receive,” said Bombardini. “If officials are looking for signals from different players in society, and the message from the nonprofit and the firm are the same, they might weight that position more heavily, not realizing that the two are linked.”

In order to counteract that distortion, the researchers propose a simple rule requiring all nonprofits to disclose any donations they receive from corporations that could be potentially affected by a rule on which they are commenting. Such a guideline wouldn’t necessarily lead regulators to discount the nonprofits’ points of view, but it might cause them to take it with a grain of salt, properly weighting its value. “We’re not saying all of these donations are nefarious—there might be a good reason why a nonprofit adopts a certain view,” said Bombardini. “We are advocating to make it all more transparent, so the public and the agencies know where the funding is coming from.”

Democrat-Led States Have Stronger Response To COVID-19, Improving Health Outcomes

Newswise– States with Democratic leaders tended to have responded more strongly to COVID-19 and have seen a lower rate of the spread of the virus, according to new research led by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Binghamton University Professor of Political Science Olga Shvetsova and her colleagues wanted to gain a clearer understanding of how politics affect COVID-19 outcomes. The researchers used data on public health measures taken across the United States to build an index of the strength of the COVID policy response. They combined this index with daily counts of new COVID cases, along with political and other variables that they thought were relevant to the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic and governments’ response to it. Using this dataset, they assessed the effects of policies on the observed number of new infections and the difference between the policies adopted in Republican-led and Democrat-led states.

This study connects the aggregate strength of public health policies taken in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.S. states to the governors’ party affiliations and to the state-level outcomes. Understanding the relationship between politics and public health measures can better prepare American communities for what to expect from their governments in a future crisis and encourage advocacy for delegating public health decisions to medical professionals.

“The state governments led by Democrats, on average, took stricter measures than the state governments led by Republicans, and the states with stricter measures had the virus spread much slower,” said Shvetsova.

The difference between the policies made in Democrat-led states and those made in Republican-led states corresponded to an about 7-8 percent lower rate of the spread of the virus.

According to the researchers, these conclusions reinforce the findings of previous studies that application of public health policy was politicized for COVID-19, and this affected health outcomes.

“The main lesson of this research is that better public health requires a less partisan approach to the making of public health policies,” said Shvetsova.

Additional researchers and institutions on the study included: Andrei Zhirnov from the University of Exeter, Frank Giannelli from Rutgers University, Michael Catalano, and Olivia Catalano. 

The paper, “Governor’s party, policies, and COVID-19 outcomes: Further Evidence of the Effect,” was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

FDA Recommends Moderna Covid-19 Booster Shot

A 19-member committee has voted unanimously in favor of advising the FDA to recommend booster shots for people who have previously been vaccinated with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. It’s now up to the FDA to make a final decision, which the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will then consider shortly in coming up with the final recommendation for who should get the Moderna booster.

The COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna is the second to get the greenlight from a panel of experts assigned to advise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Moderna follows Pfizer-BioNTech, which, in September, received FDA authorization for its booster. The CDC followed up with a booster recommendation for anyone over 65 years old who received their last Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose at least six months earlier; and anyone aged 18 to 64 who is more vulnerable to complications of COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions or because they work in a higher risk setting including a hospital, grocery store or school.

The advisory committee unanimously voted in support of a booster of the Moderna vaccine; however, in a discussion following the vote members raised concerns about whether the data the committee and FDA have been reviewing so far are adequate to justify boosters for the wider population. Several committee members voiced their support of a booster dose for vulnerable populations, including those over age 65 and people with compromised immune systems, who are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 and its complications, but noted the dearth of data supporting the benefit among younger people, even those in jobs that might put them at risk of exposure. 

Still, the members voted to recommend the Moderna shot for a population that mirrors that currently eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech booster. (The same FDA committee had voted against recommending the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for these groups, but CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky decided to include them so those who find themselves in high-risk settings have the option of getting an additional dose.)

Moderna booster dose would give younger people who mount adequate immune responses after the initial shots any extra protection. Indeed, FDA scientists presenting to the committee emphasized that the immunity from the original two doses remains strong enough to protect most people from getting sick enough to need hospitalization, or from dying of COVID-19. 

Dr. Patrick Moore, another committee member and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said he voted in favor of the booster “more from a gut feeling rather than based on really, truly serious data. The data itself is not strong, but [is] certainly going in the direction that is supportive of this vote.”

U.S. To Allow Vaccinated International Travelers From Nov. 8th

After a nearly 19-month pause, the U.S. has announced that fully vaccinated international travelers will be able to enter the country as of November 8. This follows a Wednesday announcement from the White House, saying the U.S. would open its land borders and ferry ports of entry from Canada and Mexico for non-essential purposes—but only to those who have completed their approved vaccination doses.

That means travelers looking to enter the country, whether it’s to reunite with family and friends or as a tourist, will be able to do so again for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The policy will start November 8, “in alignment with the new international air travel system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, referring to the newly announced date given by the White House for when all international plane passengers coming into the U.S. will need to be vaccinated.

The reopening of the Canadian and Mexican land borders will happen in two steps. First, international travelers with non-essential business will be able to enter starting November 8 by showing documentation that they are fully inoculated with an approved vaccine, while those who haven’t been vaccinated still won’t be able to enter the country for non-essential reasons. Then, in the second phase starting in January 2022, even those who do have essential travel purposes—like students, truckers, and health care workers—will also need to have proof of full vaccination to cross the borders.

“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of [COVID-19] and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air,” a senior administration official told reporters, according to CNN.

While international travelers coming in by plane will also need to show a negative COVID test in addition to being fully vaccinated, those crossing the borders by land will only need proof of vaccination, The New York Times explained. Any of the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization will be accepted, including Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, and Sinopharm. The procedure for those who received doses of different vaccines —which was commonplace in Canada—is still being determined, according to the Associated Press.

Since both the northern and southern borders were sealed off in March 2020, the timeline for reopening had been continually pushed back, most recently in 30-day increments, with the latest one in effect until October 21. But the reciprocal policy hadn’t been the same, as Canada reopened to American travelers August 9, while Mexico never shut down its border.

The reopening news is being lauded by the travel industry, with many expecting the relaxed restrictions to rev up leisure tourism. “U.S. Travel has long called for the safe reopening of our borders, and we welcome the Biden administration’s announcement of a set date to welcome back vaccinated international travelers,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement on Friday. In a previous statement, Dow noted that the closed borders have meant losses of about $700 million per month to the U.S. economy, totaling an estimated $250 billion in lost export income and likely more than a million lost jobs in the U.S.

The news is especially welcome at border cities, where restrictions have had a serious impact on their bottom line for the last 19 months. “Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” Mayorkas said. “We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

Those steps have been slowly coming, as news of the November welcoming of vaccinated air passengers first was limited to those in the U.K. and European Union, but started to become more general as a White House senior administration official said in September, “We’ll be moving to a consistent requirement for all international air travelers coming to the United States,” explaining that “strict protocols” would be put into place in early November “requiring that adult foreign nationals traveling here be fully vaccinated.”

As of now, vaccination requirements for domestic travel aren’t on the books, though they have been talked about. President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN Sunday: “It’s always discussable, we always wind up discussing it, but right now I don’t see that immediately.”

A Mobile App Could Save Lives In India

Newswise — A mobile app could help turn the tide of a rise in breast cancer in women as young as 30 in India, according to new research.

The disease is the most prevalent form of cancer globally and has become a major problem in India, where breast cancer accounts for 25% to 31% of all cancers.

There has also been a significant shift away from older women to those aged 30-50 developing the disease.

Dr Judith Fletcher Brown, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, says a mobile app used by on-the-ground healthcare workers might be the answer to reaching more women and teaching breast examination techniques.

She said: “India has emerged as a hub central to the development of new technology. It really is time the Indian government made a concentrated effort on raising awareness about the early warning signs of this disease as a preventative method.

“The rate of technological innovation and demand in India for mobile devices offer fresh possibilities for the health and wellbeing of the world’s largest democracy.

“It’s time to invest in innovative mobile technology to combat the rise in breast cancer statistics.”

Dr Fletcher Brown suggests a breast healthcare app could be used by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs). These on-the-ground healthcare workers are already accepted by the community, they overcome socio-cultural barriers as part of their normal day-to-day work, and they could encourage vulnerable target groups to engage with the breast cancer education mhealth technology.

Using a bespoke app (operated on a digital tablet with culturally-specific images) ASHAs could educate and demonstrate breast self-examination techniques to help identify the early warning signs of cancer. Similar technology is fast and simple to use.

In her previous research, Dr Fletcher Brown carried out fieldwork in New Delhi, India, and found the reason for such appalling statistics was a lack of awareness about the early warning signs of breast cancer by women. Macro environmental forces including weak political will to fund women’s health, combine with a society in which societal protocols which render discussion about cancer as culturally sensitive.

She said: “Tragically, the intense focus of the health service resources on Covid-19 patients, means late diagnosis at an advanced stage still remains the main challenge in the war against breast cancer.”

Dr Fletcher Brown’s latest research, with Diane Carter, Professor Rajesh Chandwani and Professor Vijay Pereira, reveals mobile health technology (mhealth) as an opportunity to improve cancer healthcare knowledge for women in India.

She said: “Smart technology such as mobile phones are a promising tool for disease control interventions in emerging economies and in India the dominant focus has so far concentrated on HIV/AIDS and diabetes education. We suggest broadening the scope of mheath technology to raise breast cancer awareness among Indian women.”

Aryan Khan Commits To “Work For Poor, Shun Wrong Path”

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan assured NCB officials during counseling that he would work for the welfare of the poor and never do anything that would besmirch his name in the future, an official said last week.

Aryan (23) is currently lodged in Arthur Road prison in Mumbai after he was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau following alleged drug seizure from a cruise ship off the Mumbai coast on October 2.

During counselling by officials including NCB’s zonal director Sameer Wankhede and social workers, Aryan said after his release, he will work for “social and financial uplift of the poor and downtrodden” and never do anything which could bring him publicity for the wrong reasons, said an agency official.

An NCB team busted an alleged drugs party on the Cordelia Cruise ship which was on its way to Goa at mid-sea on October 2. A total of 20 people, including two Nigerian nationals, have been arrested so far in the case related to the seizure of drugs following a raid at a party on the Cordelia cruise ship off the Mumbai coast on October 2.

After the arrest, Aryan along with seven other accused including two women arrested by the NCB underwent a counseling session. “Aryan was on the call for 10 minutes with his parents, and a jail official was present with him during the call,” said the official.

There are a total of 3,200 prisoners in the Arthur Road jail. As per the guidelines of the jail amid the pandemic, people are not allowed to visit the inmates. They can only speak to them over the phone. Inmates are allowed 10 minutes to talk to their family members.  The jail has a total of 11 phones. The family members of prisoners who have a video call facility are given 10 minutes on video call otherwise a voice call is dialled.

During a hearing in the Court, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) counsel ASG Anil Singh opposed Aryan’s bail and said, “Argument is, they are kids. One of the considerations for granting bail. I don’t agree with this. Sir, they are our future generation. The entire country will be depending on them. This is the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Gautam Buddha. We have to stop this drug abuse. We have been taking this matter very seriously. We are looking into the chain, into the transaction.”

The NCB, in the court, said all countries should take drug abuse very seriously as it is affecting society and the world. “Our department working day and night to find a solution to drug abuse. We are dealing with it in a very serious manner. My officers were attacked, beaten, in a different matter. They put their lives in danger and they have been working. This has been affecting the entire society, particularly to youngsters who are college students,” the NCB counsel said.

Design Thinking And User Experience Design For Innovation Highlighted At ASEI’s Design Summit

The American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin (ASEI) convened a Design Summit with several academics, authors, speakers and practitioners covering innovation in Design from multiple perspectives on October 9th, 2021.

After a brief introduction to the organization by ASEI executive council member Vatsala Upadhyay, and a tribute to design maestro Steve Jobs marking the 10th anniversary of his passing, ASEI President Piyush Malik shared his forward-thinking views on Design based on his field experiences and learnings working with nimble Silicon Valley startups as well as fortune 500 corporations around the globe. These opening remarks centered around the importance of Design as a discipline and Design Thinking methodologies adapted from IDEO, Stanford’s d.school and IBM’s enterprise design thinking approach a.k.a  IBM Garage, which is an end-to-end model for accelerating digital transformation.

The keynote speaker Prof Sanjay Gupta who is the founder and Vice Chancellor of World University of Design (WUD) shared his vision illustrating the difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience Design (UXD). He also spoke about applications of emerging concepts such as AR/VR (augmented reality /virtual reality) and innovation in design in his talk titled “Importance of design for engineers” based on his many decades of multidisciplinary design experience across Engineering, Architecture, Fashion and Academics.

Engaging Dr Gupta in a fireside chat following this address, Piyush shared some industry trends based on analyst reports and they discussed the impact of design on creator economy with NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens), Blockchain, AR/VR, etc. Dr Gupta acknowledged the ASEI community and shared the impact WUD has had in its nascent life since inception and cited the importance of partnerships with industry bodies including Assocham, CII and now ASEI to expand its sphere of influence.

Dolly Parikh, Founder and CEO of Aloki Labs, a boutique design studio in California traced her inspiration to the 1977 film “Power Of 10” and shared learnings from her UX Strategy and Design career across companies such as Apple, Verisign, Expedia, Intuit, Medallia, Aviso, Automation Anywhere, InfoStretch, ARM and MindTickle.

UX Architect Noah Iliinsky, a popular speaker and author of 2 O’Reilly books on visualization enthralled the audience with his data storytelling approach and emphasized the 4 pillars of effective design viz. purpose, content, structure and formatting. His versatile technique can be applied to not only data visualization but all forms of communications. The illustrations of data in tables versus charts and graphs and when to choose pie versus line versus bar graphs were eye opening.

In the next section of the Design Summit focusing on career guidance, Sabira Gupta who is a Software engineer turned Principal UX Designer at Informatica shared her tips for those transitioning into Design careers. She showcased formatting as well as language do‘s and don’ts to inspire the budding designers aspiring for new opportunities  amongst the audience.

Veteran designer Ches Wadja spoke on “Intuition, humility and collaboration in service of design innovation”. Sharing personal stories from his time at Expedia as the design head to being the first designer when LinkedIn was a year old startup, Ches mesmerised the attendees with the captivating story of power of being open to ideas and how being agile  and scrapy enabled his seemingly small effort to show marked improvement in Linkedin’s adoption by the masses.The legendary designer also happened to be the first designer at Youtube (which was later acquired by Google) and his designed logo is still used by the company after all these years. It was indeed a pleasure to watch his serene and calm persona field questions from the audience after the newly minted designer Shrinal Patel showcased her portfolio and sought feedback from experienced professionals Sabira and Ches to critique as well as give suggestions for improving candidate portfolio presentations.

Shrinali  then moderated the brief panel discussion with speakers after which Surbhi Kaul acknowledged all volunteers  and proposed the vote of thanks to the speakers. Surbhi, a Vice President at Juniper Networks was a speaker at ASEI’s 33rd National Convention and is an ASEI Life Member who serves on the Silicon Valley chapter board. She also gave a “heads-up” & call for volunteers as well as next year’s board member nominations across all 5 professional chapters.

The moderated Q&A session then “graduated” to social audio Clubhouse room “Engineering Tales”, where the event continued with a few of the Design summit speakers. It included more non-ASEI members too, all of whom were given a chance to interact with speakers of this Summit. John Rodriges moderated the session, sharing his experiences as a UX designer with Citigroup and past jobs. The quality of conversations there once again proved the value of this topic and popularity of design as a discipline amongst techies as well as non -technical folks.

The Design Summit showed the attendees the depth of Design experience and thought leadership amongst ASEI community members and gave a glimpse of the richness of its collaborations with national and international professional bodies.

As is evident from recent activities  and newsletters, ASEI has had an action packed 2021 so far with a large number of educational and networking opportunities  and new programmes such as MentorConnect, UniversityConnect and Youth Programs to serve its members’ interests and inspire the next generation of engineers and technologists amongst the diaspora.

The American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin (ASEI) is a not-for-profit organization that provides a platform for networking, career advancement, community service, mentoring and technology exchange for professionals, students and businesses in the United States and abroad. Members are guided by several objectives, including the creation of an open, inclusive, and transparent organization; providing positive role models, awarding scholarships, and remaining socially responsible. ASEI was founded in 1983 in Detroit, Michigan by a handful of visionaries. Today, the organization  has active professional chapters in Michigan, Southern California, Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Washington, DC and  more student chapters in universities across the US. For more information, or to join this professional body, visit: www.aseiusa.org

T20 World Cup Group To Be Held In Middle East

The seventh edition of the ICC T20 Men’s T20 World Cup is finally upon us and it will take place in UAE and Oman in a total of 4 venues — Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.

The World Cup is being co-hosted by Oman and UAE after original hosts India were forced to take the ICC event to the Middle East due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The seventh World Cup begins with a double-header at the 3,000-seat venue outside Muscat.

The group stage of the tournament begins on Sunday with Papua New Guinea taking on Oman in the 3.30 PM IST slot while Bangladesh takes on Scotland in the 7.30 PM IST slot.

From October 23, the Super 12 round will start, and this will end on November 8. The knock-out round of the T20 World Cup 2021 will start on November 10 and the final of the tournament is set to take place on November 14.

The top two teams in each group of the Super12 stage progress to the semi-finals, with the final set to be played in Dubai on 14 November. India kick off their T20 World Cup campaign against Pakistan on October 24.

The eight teams in the first round of qualifying are chasing four places in the Super 12 round-robin stage.

England, Australia, South Africa, defending champions West Indies, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan will be waiting with all matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

The top four then progress to the semi-finals before the final in Dubai on 14 November.

There is plenty at stake. A place in the next round guarantees a spot in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.

There is also a financial incentive. Teams exiting at the first hurdle take home a modest $40,000.

The eventual champions pocket a $1.6 million winner’s CASH PRIZE. 

For the first time in T20 World Cup history, DRS has been made available. Like is the case with T20Is, each team will have a maximum of two unsuccessful reviews per innings.

Here’s all you need to know about the group stage matches:

Schedule:

Oman vs Papua New Guinea– Sunday, October 17 – 3.30 PM

Bangladesh vs Scotland – Sunday, October 17 – 7.30 PM

Ireland vs Netherlands – Monday, October 18 – 3.30 PM

Sri Lanka vs Namibia – Monday, October 18 – 7.30 PM

Scotland vs Papua New Guinea – Tuesday, October 19 – 3.30 PM

Bangladesh vs Oman – Tuesday, October 19 – 7.30 PM

Namibia vs Netherlands – Wednesday, October 20 – 3.30 PM

Sri Lanka vs Ireland – Wednesday, October 20 – 7.30 PM

Bangladesh vs Papua New Guinea – Thursday, October 21 – 3.30 PM

Oman vs Scotland – Thursday, October 21 – 7.30 PM

Namibia vs Ireland – Friday, October 22 – 3.30 PM

Sri Lanka vs Netherlands – Friday, October 22 – 7.30 PM

Pakistan have won their last 10 Twenty20 internationals in the UAE and captain Babar Azam claimed Saturday that run will give his men the edge over India next weekend. “Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said Saturday when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes. “These conditions suit us and we know how to play here.”

Quantum Phase Transition Detected On A Global Scale Deep Inside The Earth

Newswise — New York, NY—October  12, 2021—The interior of the Earth is a mystery, especially at greater depths (> 660 km). Researchers only have seismic tomographic images of this region and, to interpret them, they need to calculate seismic (acoustic) velocities in minerals at high pressures and temperatures. With those calculations, they can create 3D velocity maps and figure out the mineralogy and temperature of the observed regions. When a phase transition occurs in a mineral, such as a crystal structure change under pressure, scientists observe a velocity change, usually a sharp seismic velocity discontinuity.

In 2003, scientists observed in a lab a novel type of phase change in minerals–a spin change in iron in ferropericlase, the second most abundant component of the Earth’s lower mantle. A spin change, or spin crossover, can happen in minerals like ferropericlase under an external stimulus, such as pressure or temperature. Over the next few years, experimental and theoretical groups confirmed this phase change in both ferropericlase and bridgmanite, the most abundant phase of the lower mantle. But no one was quite sure why or where this was happening.

In 2006, Columbia Engineering Professor Renata Wentzcovitch published her first paper on ferropericlase, providing a theory for the spin crossover in this mineral. Her theory suggested it happened across a thousand kilometers in the lower mantle. Since then, Wentzcovitch, who is a professor in the applied physics and applied mathematics department, earth and environmental sciences, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, has published 13 papers with her group on this topic, investigating velocities in every possible situation of the spin crossover in ferropericlase and bridgmanite, and predicting properties of these minerals throughout this crossover. In 2014, Wenzcovitch, whose research focuses on computational quantum mechanical studies of materials at extreme conditions, in particular planetary materials predicted how this spin change phenomenon could be detected in seismic tomographic images, but seismologists still could not see it.

Working with a multidisciplinary team from Columbia Engineering, the University of Oslo, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Intel Co., Wenzcovitch’s latest paper details how they have now identified the ferropericlase spin crossover signal, a quantum phase transition deep within the Earth’s lower mantle. This was achieved by looking at specific regions in the Earth’s mantle where ferropericlase is expected to be abundant. The study was published October 8, 2021, in Nature Communications.

“This exciting finding, which confirms my earlier predictions, illustrates the importance of materials physicists and geophysicists working together to learn more about what’s going on deep within the Earth,” said Wentzcovitch.

Spin transition is commonly used in materials like those used for magnetic recording. If you stretch or compress just a few nanometer-thick layers of a magnetic material, you can change the layer’s magnetic properties and improve the medium recording properties. Wentzcovitch’s new study shows that the same phenomenon happens across thousands of kilometers in the Earth’s interior, taking this from the nano- to the macro-scale.

“Moreover, geodynamic simulations have shown that the spin crossover invigorates convection in the Earth’s mantle and tectonic plate motion. So we think that this quantum phenomenon also increases the frequency of tectonic events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,” Wentzcovitch notes.

There are still many regions of the mantle researchers do not understand and spin state change is critical to understanding velocities, phase stabilities, etc. Wentzcovitch is continuing to interpret seismic tomographic maps using seismic velocities predicted by ab initio calculations based on density functional theory. She is also developing and applying more accurate materials simulation techniques to predicting seismic velocities and transport properties, particularly in regions rich in iron, molten, or at temperatures close to melting.

“What’s especially exciting is that our materials simulation methods are applicable to strongly correlated materials–multiferroic, ferroelectrics, and materials at high temperatures in general,” Wentzcovitch says. “We’ll be able to improve our analyses of 3D tomographic images of the Earth and learn more about how the crushing pressures of the Earth’s interior are indirectly affecting our lives above, on the Earth’s surface.”

About the Study

The study is titled “Seismological expression of the iron spin crossover in ferropericlase in the Earth’s lower mantle.” Authors are: ​​Grace E. Shephard 1, Christine Houser 2, John W. Hernlund 2, Juan J. Valencia-Cardona 3, Reidar G. Trønnes 1,4 & Renata M. Wentzcovitch 5,6,7

 

ATA’s Grand Bathukamma Celebrations Held in Chicago

American Telugu Association (ATA), a burgeoning Telugu non-profit organization catering to the interests of Telugu people across North America, organized its flagship event ATA Dussehra & Bathukamma Sambaraalu with much pomp and fervor on Saturday, October 9th, 2021 at Sri Venkateswara Swamy (Balaji) Temple in Aurora IL.

Bathukamma is a floral festival celebrated during Navratri time and is predominantly celebrated in the Telangana State of India. Bathukamma is a beautiful flower stack, arranged with different unique seasonal flowers arrangement. Women and little girls offer prayers to goddess Gauramma for good health, wealth and prosperity to their families.

Bathukamma event took off to a grand start with a strong contingent of 350 local community members taking part in the festivities. Illinois 11th District Congressman Bill Foster was the Guest of Honor for the event and amidst Vedic renditions kickstarted the festivities with the ceremonial lamp lighting ceremony. Congressman  Foster appreciated the outstanding contributions of Telugus across all walks of life to the American society as doctors, engineers businessmen, etc. Congressman Congratulated the audience for keeping the Indian Traditions, festivals and values alive in the US and was curious about the significance of the festival. According to the Congressman, it was estimated that around 1 Million Telugu native language speakers/Indian Americans are currently living in the United States. Saree-clad Indian Women and little girls dressed in ethnic attire danced to the folk songs late into the evening.

A special kolatam dance performance spearheaded by Saritha Reddy Nandyala mesmerized the audiences. The special attraction of the evening was the percussion instruments performance by Maharashtra Rudra Garjana and Chicago Chenda group playing traditional drums (dhols). Drone cameras were used to capture the aarathi and Nimajjan activities. Specialty snacks from Telangana and sumptuous Indian delicacies were served. President Bhuvanesh Boojala, President-elect Madhu Bommineni wished that the people in both the Telugu states a safe and happy Dussera & Bathukamma. Bathukamma Event Coordination, planning and execution were conducted under the leadership of  Board of Trustee Dr Meher Medavaram and Sainath Reddy Boyapalli Board of Trustee & Treasurer ATA.  Maheedhar Reddy Muskula (ATA Office Coordinator) assisted the event. Regional Coordinators Venkatram Reddy Ravi, Venkateswara Ramireddy and Suchitra Reddy oversaw the event proceedings with support from Chalma Reddy Bandaru, Venkat Thudi, Mahipal Reddy Vancha, Bhanu Swargam, Narasimha Chittaluri, Karunakar Doddam, Amar Nettam, Laxmi Boyapalli, Ramana Abbaraju, Satish Yellamilli, Jagan Bukkaraju, Vishwanath Chitra, Hari Raini & Bheem Reddy. ATA Chicago Team congratulated the support of volunteers, local organizations, friends and family members for their never-ending support to ATA. ATA Media chair Bhanu Swargam praised the relentless media support to ATA.

Bathukamma pre-event and making of the floral stacks was coordinated by Suchitra Reddy, Padma Muskula, Deepthi Vancha, Vaishali Ravi, Tulasi RV Reddy, Harathi Thudi, Aparna Kollu, Lavanya Gundu, Nandini Bukkaraju, Deepika Namasani, Swathi Rao, Asha Tuluva Supritha Kesavarapu, Prasuna Reddy Voruganti, Sudha Kunduru, Anitha Koppara, Asha Reddy Pasham, Malleshwari Peddamallu & Saritha Challa. Raffle ticket winners, Best Bathukamma winners, etc were awarded prizes.

HinduPACT Condemns Pakistan’s Rejection of Forced Conversion Bill

Pakistan’s decision to reject a bill that would have banned forced conversions to Islam is the latest blow to the Islamic Republic’s religious minority population. This exasperates the need to ensure the country becomes secular and HinduPACT is calling on the international community to unify and ensure this comes to fruition.

The fragility of the democratic process, that is still non-existent in Pakistan, is on full display with this latest failure to protect the most vulnerable members of Pakistan’s society, especially Christians, Hindus and other minorities in Sindh and Punjab.

“Democracy in Pakistan is weak and even in that system there is no willingness to help the country’s religious minorities,” said HinduPACT Executive Director Utsav Chakrabarti. “True democracy cannot take place unless Pakistan becomes a secular State and it is incumbent on the international community to make sure Pakistan becomes a secular State.”

“The rejection of a bill that expressly prohibits forced conversions of religious minorities, and even more important, criminalizes the forced conversion of underage non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is truly tragic, but for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interreligious Harmony to term a bill that aims to protect the basic rights of minority citizens as non-Islamic is clear evidence of how systemic the religious intolerance is in the Pakistani establishment,” said Rakhi Israni, who leads HinduPACT’s  CHINGARI, a project that deals with this issue.

The bill, which was signed by nearly 40 human rights groups and included signatures by known human rights activists like Irfan Mufti, Mohammad Tahseen, Peter Jacob, Rubina Jamil, and Syeda Ghulam Fatima, among others, was rejected by Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee. It sought to make 18 years the minimum legal age for conversion.

For Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri to suggest that there should be no age limit for conversion is egregious. And for him to reason that a potential law meant to protect minority rights would “create further problems” for them and would make them “more vulnerable” is counterintuitive.

True democracy is defined by a nation’s ability to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Until Pakistan becomes a secular state, the fate of its non-Muslim minority population continues to hang in the balances. For media inquiries, contact [email protected]

M. Night Shyamalan’s Next Thriller Is “Knock At The Cabin”

Renowned Indian American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie, produced by Universal Pictures, “Knock at the Cabin” is planned to be released on Feb. 3, 2023.

As per The Hollywood Reporter, “Knock at the Cabin” continues the prolific partnership between Universal and Shyamalan. Universal partnered with the Indian American filmmaker’s last four films, “Old” (2021), “Glass” (2019), “Split” (2017) and “The Visit” (2015).

In August, the director teased fans about the upcoming release, posting a picture on his Twitter handle showing off an unlabeled binder that allegedly held the script. “The next one. On third draft. Super tight. Under a 100 pages,” he tweeted at that time. Shyamalan’s most recent offering, “Old,” earned $90.1 million at the global box office amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After fumbling with his move towards bigger blockbusters with the likes of The Last Airbender and After Earth, Shyamalan has seemingly returned to the smaller, more intimate movies of his earlier output, and this is something that the director is clearly enjoying. “I’m loving this approach from The Visit on where they’re minimal, contained, I own them, we take big tonal risks and try to hit that note of absurd-but-grounded, that dark humor moment and deal with some complicated things and not necessarily take the audience where they’re comfortable, both during or even at the end,” Shyamalan shared back in 2019.

Old continued this trend, and follows a small group of people who discover an idyllic cove filled with rock pools and sandy shore, encircled by green, densely vegetated cliffs. Unfortunately, the picturesque spot is not what it appears to be, and suddenly everybody starts growing older every half hour, reducing their entire lives into a single day. While Old received mixed reviews from critics, it’s hard not to be curious about what Shyamalan plans to do next.

Knock at the Cabin will be the second movie in M. Night Shyamalan’s two-movie deal with Universal Pictures, the first being Old. The filmmaker has teased that the movies could be connected in some way, and while they may not be straight-forward sequels, there could be something continual in their themes, particularly the exploration of time.

“I just had two movie ideas I felt very strongly about,” Shyamalan revealed. “For me, there are ideas and they’re in journals sometimes and they don’t quite have the meat yet or whatever that thing is that makes it so I’m ready to commit two years of my life to making this-to writing and directing this-some of those ideas don’t have that yet. They have to gestate a little bit. But there were two ideas where right away I was thinking about making them. And, interesting enough, there might be a third thing that came to me that might end up going in between these two. So there might be three.” Well, what do you think Knock at the Cabin will be about?

Sitharaman Meets With U.S. Businesses In New York

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s meetings with U.S. businesses and institutions continued at a feverish pitch, including talks with two key investors asking them to broaden their world view and look at India for investment. As part of this, Sitharaman on Oct. 16 met Scott Sleyster, executive Vice president and chief operating officer of Prudential Financial, and Philip Vassiliou, chief investment officer of Legatum, in New York.

Her discussions with Sleyster revolved around the reforms towards capital bond market, investor charter and other initiatives. The robust structural growth and continued interest of the company to invest in India formed part of the discussion with Vassiliou. Earlier during the day, Sitharaman addressed global business leaders and investors at a Roundtable organized by USISPForum and Ficci India in New York.

“With the current reset in the global supply chain and clear headed and committed leadership in India, I see opportunities galore in India for all investors and industry stakeholders,” she said at the Roundtable.

The finance minister also met Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi.

Fraser talked about the strength of India’s economic recovery and how India will increasingly become an important destination of investment for multinational corporations looking to grow their operations.

Sitharaman also held one-to-one meetings with Raj Subramanyam, Indian American CEO of FedEx; Ajay Banga, executive chairman, and Meibach Michael, CEO at Mastercard; and Arvind Krishna, chairman and chief executive officer at IBM.

The discussions revolved around getting more investment into India.

All the business leaders talked about the positive impact India’s reforms, in particular the PLI schemes, will have on labor-intensive sectors in the country. IBM indicated its interest in India in the areas of hybrid cloud, automation, 5G, cybersecurity, data, and AI.

The recently launched initiative of the National Infrastructure Master Plan, GatiShakti and India having the third largest start-up ecosystem and unicorn base formed part of discussion with Subramanyam.

CDC’s Data On COVID-19 Cases Shows Deaths By Vaccine Type

Unvaccinated people are about six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die from the illness compared to people who are vaccinated, though there are slight differences in risk based on vaccine type, according to newly released CDC data

The CDC published data Oct. 15 that breaks down the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status and vaccine type. The rates are based on data from 16 public health departments — representing about 30 percent of the U.S. population — and cover April through the end of August. 

Five notes: 

1. Overall, unvaccinated people had the highest COVID-19 case and death rates. 

2. The COVID-19 case and death rates were slightly higher among Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients, followed by Pfizer recipients and then Moderna.

3. As of Aug. 15, there were about 737 cases per 100,000 population among unvaccinated people — the highest rate during the period for which data was collected.

4. The case rates as of Aug. 15 for J&J recipients were about 172 cases per 100,000, followed by about 136 cases per 100,000 among Pfizer recipients, and 86 cases per 100,000 among Moderna recipients. 

5. The death rates as of Aug. 15 were nearly 13 per 100,000 among unvaccinated people, 3 per 100,000 for J&J recipients, about 1.4 per 100,000 for people who got Pfizer’s shot, and 0.69 per 100,000 for Moderna recipients.

Patients Prefer In Person Over Telehealth Visits To Doctors

New Yorker Charlie Freyre’s sinuses had been bothering him for weeks last winter, during a COVID-19 surge in the city. It was before vaccines became widely available.

“I was just trying to stay in my apartment as much as possible,” Freyre says, so checking in with his doctor via an online appointment “just seemed like a more convenient option. And you know, it was very straightforward and very easy.”

The $20 copay was well worth it for the 26-year-old ad salesman, whose girlfriend also routinely relies on telehealth to see her nutritionist. “It’s a very easy way to get an expert opinion without having to necessarily leave your apartment,” fill out forms or spend idle time in waiting rooms, Freyre says. “We all know what going to the doctor can be like.”But now, Freyre has a sore knee — and he’s not content to to visit his doctor by phone or Zoom. “That’s something that I will 100% want handled in person.”

Freyre’s telehealth experience is fairly typical. Telehealth is continuing to have its breakout moment — transforming the way we receive routine medical care during the pandemic, when visiting medical centers has carried with it the risk of coronavirus infection. Yet even today, with that infection risk easing for those who have been vaccinated, many patients nevertheless prefer that doctors, nurses and other health workers be able to examine and talk to them in person.

That’s one finding from a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard that surveyed patients in August and September. Around 42% of respondents said someone in their household had used telehealth. Of those, 82% reported satisfaction, yet nearly two-thirds — 64% — would have preferred to see their nurse or doctor in person.

In-person visits can be more thorough

“I think people just really like that face-to-face visit,” says Rebekah Bernard, a Fort Myer, Fla., family physician, and a board member of Physicians for Patient Protection, which advocates for better patient care. Bernard, who runs a concierge medical practice that charges patients a flat monthly fee for services, says she started offering telehealth options to her patients five years ago, long before COVID-19 hit U.S. shores. Back then, not one of her patients used it. That changed during the pandemic, when patients told her having the telehealth option allayed their worries about getting safe access to health care.

That sort of shift in acceptance and how it’s used may have big implications for telehealth’s role in the U.S. in the future. It’s use by various physical and mental health specialties grew tremendously in 2020, as federal and state governments and insurance companies adopted emergency COVID-19 measures, relaxing restrictions on coverage, privacy controls and professional licensing, for example. Now, some of those rules regarding telehealth appointments are being reinstated.

Bernard, the physician in Florida, says the last year has also shown her the limits and downsides of telehealth: “You may be missing that opportunity to be talking with the doctor who’s going to say, ‘Hey, by the way, I see you haven’t had your mammogram or you haven’t had your pap [smear].’ ”

Both she and most patients prefer in-person visits, because it is both more personal, thorough and ultimately, she says, better for the patients’ health.

A lifeline in rural areas

But when and where such visits aren’t available, she says, telehealth can be critical. “What’s going to be important is offering patients options and finding out what makes the most sense in a certain area,” she says. “I’m sure in rural areas or places where, for example, they don’t have a lot of specialists like psychiatrists, we really need to make sure we have access to telehealth for those patients.”

Myriad telehealth companies are already investing to make that happen.

New York City-based TytoCare, helps medical centers and doctors gather data on patients remotely by distributing devices that can sensitively measure patients’ oxygen levels or take images of the inside of their throat, for example. David Bardan, a vice president at TytoCare, says that data is then transmitted to doctors, who use it diagnose medical problems.

Nursing homes in rural areas, for example, are heavy users of the service, he says. “This is way more convenient than having to potentially air-transport or even having to drive long distances, in many cases, to access those specialists,” he says. That’s the sort of circumstance where telehealth excels, Barden says — and he believes those applications of telehealth will endure.

Anthony Fauci Oks Mix And Match Covid-19 Vaccines For Booster Dose

Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said American drug regulator will consider whether those who have been inoculated with one dose of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine should be administered an mRNA-based vaccine, like Moderna or Pfizer as a booster shot to help induce a higher number of antibodies.

“If you boost people who have originally received J&J with either Moderna or Pfizer, the level of antibodies that you induce in them is much higher than if you boost them with the original J&J,” Fauci told reporters during a television interview.

Fauci’s comment comes after a second dose of the J&J vaccine was recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 18 years and above as a booster shot. FDA also recommended a third dose of the Modern vaccine as a booster shot to high-risk adults.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech SE and Moderna vaccines are based on mRNA technology while the J&J shot uses adenovirus like India’s Covishield. Experts opine that mix-and-match of vaccines if sanctioned will give individuals greater flexibility in deciding which booster shot they should opt for to help battle waning immunity against the virus.

The infectious disease expert had said towards the end of September that efficacy data on the pairing of vaccines will be available in the first two weeks of October, months after the National Institutes of Health started a mix-and-match trial of Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J shots on roughly 150 adults on June 1. All the participants were given a booster shot of a different vaccine three to four months after completing their first vaccine regimen.

Fauci also said individuals will have the freedom to choose which booster shot they would like to go for. “I believe there’s going to be a degree of flexibility of what a person who got the J&J originally can do, either with J&J or with the mix-and-match from other products,” he said.

Governor Kathy Hochu Leads Diwali Celebrations In New York

Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York, joined by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, kick started Diwali celebrations in the state of New York while joining the South Asian community at the World’s Fair Marina Restaurant in Corona, Queens on October 11, 2021.

Governor Hochul delivered remarks and presented a Proclamation to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali, one of the most significant festivals is Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. It’s a five-day celebration that includes good food, fireworks, colored sand, and special candles and lamps.

In her remarks, Governor Hochul said: “Thank you for allowing me the chance to share in the tradition of lighting the candles, to participate here tonight, to meet so many of you who have been my friends a long time on this journey, and your support means the world to me and I’ll never take that for granted.”

The first female governor of the great state of New York thanbked the organiZers and leaders of the Indian American community: “I want to just thank Uma SenGupta for all you’ve done for us, and to your family, your mother, and the influence of your late father – you are the reason why we celebrate today, people like you who came to this country humbly, not sure of what the future would bring, but you always had that deep rooted faith in your traditions and to know that Diwali followed you to this country, that you had this light within your heart that you could bring to America and let shine and let all of us gather here in honor of the Goddess Lakshmi. Many of the traditions honor the male gods but this is one that’s dedicated to women so I think this is particularly special as well. Dr. Sumita Sengupta, I want to thank you as well. Randhir Jaiswal, the Consul General, is here as well. Dr. Hari Shukla, I want to thank him for making me feel so welcome, the founder of South Asians of New York.”

“New beginnings, new endeavors and an opportunity to renew ties with family and friends” is what Diwali brings to people around the world who celebrate the Festival. Like food, fashion, and faith, Indians carry with them their beloved festivals wherever their livelihood takes them. It’s no different in the US where people of Indian origin have been living since the 1820s.

Governor Kathy Hochulm, who is seeking to be elected as the Governor in the polls next years, is leading in a new poll of likely Democratic candidates for the state’s top seat ahead of next year’s primary and election season, and the vast majority of New Yorkers don’t want disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo to run again. Hochul got 44% support from New York State residents, with State Attorney General Letitia James coming in second at 28% and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at 15%, with 13% unsure, according to the Marist Poll released Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Hochul added, “This occasion celebrates the eternal hope of human kind that guides all of our communities, and as Diwali inspires a spirit of festivity, New Yorkers extend appreciation to our Indian and South Asian communities for their contributions and commitment to upholding and sharing our wonderfully rich heritage story and time-honored traditions, and we extend the warmest wishes for joy and peace and prosperity in the future.”

Over the years, a growing Indian immigrant population has been celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, going all out to replicate the massive festivities from their motherland. The scale of celebrations has become such that popular US tourist spots like Disneyland in California and New York’s Times Square get painted in vibrant Indian colours. Even the White House has been celebrating the festival for many years. After all, the 3.1 million Indian-Americans form one of the most successful immigrant communities in the US.

Mixing and Matching Covid Vaccine Is Effective

More COVID-19 boosters are likely on the horizon: Last week, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee recommended a half-dose of Moderna’s vaccine for those over 65, as well as younger adults with certain health conditions and those who work in high-risk settings.

Subsequently, the committee unanimously voted to recommend boosters for Janssen/Johnson & Johnson recipients who are 18 or older, at least two months after their first dose. The FDA, which previously green-lit Pfizer boosters, is expected to follow both of the committee’s recommendations.

But when it comes to booster shots, one big question lingers: should people be mixing and matching by getting an extra dose of a vaccine other than the one they initially received?

A highly anticipated study of “mixing and matching” Covid-19 vaccines found the approach to be safe and effective, although the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were found to spark stronger immune system responses than Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. “Mixing and matching” refers to giving a booster dose of a vaccine different from the vaccine type that was used for the initial vaccination series.

According to the findings from the study by the National Institutes of Health, which was released last week, but has yet to be peer reviewed, participants who received a booster of a different vaccine than the one they originally got experienced antibody increases similar to or higher than those who received another dose of the same vaccine they were previously given.

The study found that people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced stronger antibody levels after they got booster shots made by Moderna or Pfizer, compared to boosters from Johnson & Johnson. Those who were originally vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and received either company’s booster shot produced similarly strong immune responses, the researchers found.

Mixing and matching could help the booster rollout in the U.S., since people could receive whatever vaccine their pharmacy had on hand, rather than seeking out the shot they were originally given. As Alice writes, “The findings are encouraging because they suggest that it’s safe for providers to mix and match doses when it comes to boosters. … The ability to get any of the three vaccines will ensure that more people will get the additional shot.” However, at least for now, the FDA and CDC aren’t even considering whether to approve mixing and matching.

Post Afghanistan, US-Pakistan Relations Stand On The Edge Of A Precipice

With the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, Pakistan may have come closer to achieving its long-sought “strategic depth” with respect to its western neighbor, with a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. But the Taliban’s victory is also seriously testing Pakistan’s long fraught bilateral relationship with America. For the last 20 years, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been defined by the needs of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. With that war having ended with an outcome as ignominious as a Taliban takeover, the relationship is at a clear crossroads. The outlook isn’t positive. Here’s where things stand.

The Mood In Washington

In Washington, where policymakers have been grappling with the fallout from the sudden Taliban takeover of Kabul in August and the scrambled evacuation that followed, the focus has shifted to identifying the mistakes made in the war in Afghanistan. Washington is taking a hard look at where things went wrong — and Pakistan, given its long history with the Taliban, is part of that equation.

In congressional hearings a couple of weeks ago on Afghanistan, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that “we need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary” in understanding how the Taliban prevailed. In September, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said during his congressional hearing that “This is one of the things we’re going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years.” He added that the U.S. government would also be looking at “the role we would want to see [Pakistan] play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” signifying that a review of how to engage Islamabad in the future was ongoing.

In the Senate, 22 Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill calling for Afghanistan’s new Taliban government to be sanctioned, along with governments that have supported the Taliban. The bill also calls for a report that will include “an assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020,” that also looks at the provision of “sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and tactical, operation or strategic direction.”

What Pakistan Is Saying

Pakistan’s Senate in turn displayed “alarm” over the bill moved in the U.S. Senate, which Pakistan’s media termed an “anti-Pakistan” bill. Pakistan argues that it is being scapegoated for U.S. military and Afghan leadership failures — while ignoring its own support of the Taliban. It has not officially recognized the new Taliban regime, but it has been concertedly pitching engagement with it, with government officials making the case in speeches, op-eds, and interviews.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan went beyond calls many have made for humanitarian relief and financial liquidity to avoid economic collapse in Afghanistan, to saying that “we must strengthen and stabilize the current government, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.” (Pakistan also points out that instability and violence in Afghanistan will spill over into Pakistan.)

But Pakistan faces a credibility issue, and its call for the world to engage with the Taliban may have found more takers if it had not given the Taliban sanctuary or support over the last 20 years. As it is, these calls only highlight Pakistan’s long-standing ties with the Taliban. And Pakistan’s stance seems to argue for international support before the Taliban fulfill promises they have made regarding girls’ education and human rights.

What America Wants From Pakistan

America wants to ensure that Pakistan doesn’t formally recognize the Taliban government, and that it exercises its leverage over the Taliban to get the group to make concessions on women’s rights and girls’ education, and to form an inclusive government. (So far, the Taliban’s interim cabinet is all male, and beyond some diversity of ethnicity, entirely non-inclusive.)

Going ahead, America also wants to continue to cooperate with Pakistan on certain counterterrorism matters — especially now that it is limited to “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan. General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, alluded to that in his congressional testimony: “Over the last 20 years we’ve been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western Pakistan and that’s become something that’s vital to us, as well as certain landlines of communication. And we’ll be working with the Pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what that relationship is going to look like in the future.” The general was referring to air lines of communication (ALOCs) and ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that Pakistan provided to the U.S. over the last 20 years.

Recent Engagement From The Biden Administration With Pakistan

The Biden administration’s engagement with Pakistan to date — pre- and post-withdrawal — has focused almost exclusively on Afghanistan. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Pakistan in September, ostensibly to discuss counterterrorism cooperation as well as other matters. Blinken and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and the focus was on Afghanistan.

The readout of the meeting from the State Department was unmistakably bare bones and focused singularly on Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ longer readout also noted Pakistan’s “desire for a balanced relationship with the United States that was anchored in trade, investment, energy and regional connectivity.” This imbalance revealed a disconnect in their views of the relationship.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Pakistan last week. In an interview in India just before the visit, she said: “It’s for a very specific and narrow purpose, we don’t see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India, Pakistan.” While in Pakistan, where she met Qureshi; Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa; and the Pakistani national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, Sherman was more diplomatic.

She noted that “Afghanistan was at the top of our agenda, but we also discussed our cooperation in other areas, including the climate crisis, geoeconomics and regional connectivity, and ending the COVID-19 pandemic” and added that “the United States believes that a strong, prosperous, democratic Pakistan is vitally important for the region and indeed for the wider world.”

Hanging over these meetings is the fact that Biden has not yet called Khan since he took office in January. The glaring lack of a phone call is a topic of considerable discussion in Pakistan.

Warning Signs

Many in Pakistan watching this phase of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship are evoking the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, when the U.S., after having allied with Pakistan to fund and arm the mujahideen that Pakistan trained to fight the Soviets, looked away from the region. America eventually sanctioned Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.

Over the last 20 years, Washington’s needs in Afghanistan defined the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, even if that meant Washington sometimes had to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s sanctuary for the Taliban. Now, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington has little incentive to gloss over what it has long seen as Pakistan’s double game or to broaden ties. Washington’s attention is now east of Pakistan: on its relationships with India and other countries to counter China.

In this environment, U.S.-Pakistan relations face a reckoning.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan might have been a moment of opportunity to rethink a bilateral relationship that has been defined for much of the last 40 years by Pakistan’s western neighbor. But in early August, I wrote that the relationship between America and Pakistan stood in an uneasy limbo as the U.S. was withdrawing from Afghanistan; and that there would be “little to no appetite in Washington to engage with Pakistan on other matters going ahead if Afghanistan was embroiled in violence or in Taliban hands.”

The latter outcome has come to pass. Warning signs are flashing red for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and it’s safe to say that the scope for cooperation has narrowed. Sherman may not have been engaging in diplo-speak on Pakistan while in India, but she may have given away where the Biden administration is leaning for now on Pakistan: limited engagement on Afghanistan, and little else.

(Madiha Afzal is a Fellow – Foreign PolicyCenter for Middle East PolicyCenter for Security, Strategy, and Technology)

Is Sonia Gandhi Returning To Lead Congress Party Actively?

In her address to the powerful Congress Working Committee on Saturday, October 16, 2021, Congress president Sonia Gandhi indulged in some plain speak, saying she is a “full-time and hands-on party president”. Reacting to comments by some G-23 leaders that the party needs an active president, Sonia said, “I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President.”

“In the last two years, a large number of our colleagues, particularly the younger ones have taken on leadership roles in taking party policies and programmes to the people — whether it be the agitation of farmers, provision of relief during the pandemic, highlighting issues of concern to youth and women, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, price rise, and the destruction of the public sector,” the Congress president said during her opening address.

She added, “Never have we let issues of public importance and concern go unaddressed. You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister as have Manmohan Singh and Rahul ji. I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly. We have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well.”

She further said, “I have always appreciated frankness. There is no need to speak to me through the media. So let us all have a free and honest discussion. But what should get communicated outside the four walls of this room is the collective decision of the CWC.”

Kapil Sibal, one of the G 23 leaders, had said during a press conference last month: “In our party, at the moment, there is no president, so we don’t know who is taking these decisions. We know and yet we don’t know.”

On the eve of the meeting, several Congress leaders, including members of the Group of 23 who have been seeking sweeping changes in the party structure, argued that the party should not go in for polls now.

Gandhi, while referring to organizational elections for electing a new president, said, “The entire organization wants a revival of the Congress.  But this requires unity and keeping the Party’s interests paramount. Above all, it requires self-control and discipline.”

She added, “I am acutely conscious of the fact that I have been interim Congress President ever since the CWC, asked me to return in this capacity in 2019. We had thereafter, you may recall, finalized a roadmap for electing a regular President by June 30th 2021.  But the second wave of Covid-19 overtook the country and this deadline was extended indefinitely by the CWC in its meeting held on May 10, 2021.  Today is the occasion for bringing clarity once and for all. A Schedule for full-fledged organizational elections is before you.”

Leading upto the first meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in five months on Saturday, the chances of the party announcing organizational elections, including to the post of party president, seemed bleak. On the eve of the meeting, several Congress leaders, including members of the Group of 23 who have been seeking sweeping changes in the party structure, argued that the party should not go in for polls now and should focus on the forthcoming Assembly elections in five states.

“There is again election in some states. There will be continuously elections in one or the other state or group of states till 2024. I think the party’s priority should be to win these elections or consolidating our position, instead of thinking of these issues. There are challenges before the party and there are bigger challenges before the nation… There are issues of democratic values, the issue of weaker sections, unemployment… economy is in a very bad shape. All these things are very dear to the Congress. I think we should focus on these issues and on winning elections in the states. Everybody realises this… But anyway, if the party feels there should be elections, we are ready for elections also,” CWC member Harish Rawat told The Indian Express.

Some of the leaders of the G-23, however, added that the CWC can decide the timeline for holding the membership drive, which was last held in 2016-17, in the run up to the organisational elections.

“We have not had a membership drive for five-six years. So how can we hold organisational elections? We will have to hold the membership drive first. But the coming Assembly elections are the priority. We can discuss the schedule (for organisational elections). But first the membership drive will have to begin at some point of time,” a G-23 leader said.

Need For Management Of Perception About India:” V. Muraleedharan Tells Diaspora

“India is fully democratic. Judiciary is independent. Media is free. There is no substance to the claims that the media is controlled by the government,” declared India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri V. Muraleedharan on October 12th at the Mill River Hotel in Stamford, CT.

The visiting Indian leader from the ruling BJP Party was responding to a question raised by this writer about the “intimidation, influence and control” on the media by the government and about the negative image portrayed by the Western media due to the short-sighted and communalistic policies and programs of the ruling BJP.

Shri Muraleedharan urged for a “management of perception” to change the way India is being portrayed by the Media and appealed to the NRIs to be the “ambassadors of India” to help reshape the image outside of India. “I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented,” Muraleedharan said.

The young leader from the state of Kerala and elected from to India’s Upper House of Parliament from the state of Maharashtra was addressing the representatives of the Diaspora during a Reception and Interactive session organized by the Consulate of India in New York and the GOPIO – CT Chapter. Stating that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi calls himself a sewak of every Indian, Muraleedharan said, “The role of the Ministry of External Affairs is to care for the Diaspora. And my visit today is for the purpose of benefitting the Indian Diaspora,” he told the audience.

Shri Muraleedharan, who officially took charge as Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in May 2019, is visiting the United States to address the United Nations. He took the opportunity to travel to Connecticut to “listen” directly to the Diaspora and address their concerns. “I’ve been in charge of the External Affairs Ministry for the last 2 years. I was feeling that there is a need for interaction with the Diaspora. And this forum is a place where people have an opportunity to share their problems and concerns,” he told the audience. While assuring the community that he has listened to the concerns of the Diaspora, he will address each one of them and find an amicable solution.

On Press Freedom in India, the Minister categorically denied that Government is interfering with or “controlling” the media. “Allegations that the Indian media is controlled by the government doesn’t have any substance to it,” he said. Pointing to the fact that there are several media who are openly critical of the government, he asked the audience, “If the freedom for the media is restricted, how can the media be allowed to be critical of the Government? How could the media publish the stories of the bodies floating in the Ganges during the peak of the Pandemic, even though the situation is far from what was reported?” He described such allegations as totally false and there is a need for the “management of perception.”

The event was led by Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chair of GOPIO International and GOPIO – CT leadership including President Ashok Nichani, Exec. VP Prasad Chintalapudi, Secretary Prachi Narayan, Treasurer Biru Sharma, and Joint Secretary Meera Banta. Several past presidents Sangeeta Ahuja, Shailesh Naik, Shelly Nichani and Anita Bhat.

Among others who attended the Reception and the Interactive Session with the Honorable Minister Shri V. Muraleedharan, included, Deputy Consul General of Indian in New York, Dr. Varun Jeph; Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate Mr. A.K.Vijayakrishan; CT Assemblyman Harry Arora, several community organizations including Milan cultural Association President Suresh Sharma; Past President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and CT, Andy Bhatia; CT Tamil Sangam President Shivakumar Subramaniam and past president Uma Sekhar; CT Telugu Association Past President Rao Yelamachali; Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut President T.P. Sujanan; GOPIO Media Council Chair Nami Kaur; Sabinsa Corporation President Dr. Asha Ramesh; and former Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs of GOPIO, Dr. Rupendra Paliwal.

In his introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Abraham, welcoming Minister V. Muraleedharan said, “After the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was merged with the External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his associate Minister Shri Muraleedharan have been dealing with Diaspora affairs. Minister Muraleedharan, we are so pleased that you took some time off your busy schedule at the UN to join us and interact with us.”

Dr. Abraham provided a brief history of GOPIO International, which was formed at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York, which has now grown into  a Pan-Indian community organization for NRIs and PIOs with over 100 chapters spread in 35 countries. “We at GOPIUO are a partner with Indian missions abroad to protect India’s interest around the world.

Drawing the attention of the Minister to some of the issues faced by the NRI/PIO community, Dr. Abraham said, “We campaigned for Dual Nationality and the govt. came up with PIO Card and later on with the OCI card. We asked for voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Although voting rights are given, there has been very little participation because of the requirements of physical voting in India. The Election Commission has recommended Proxy Voting, but not implemented yet.”

He urged the government of India to appoint at least two Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, representing the 32 million people of Indian origin living outside India, more than half of them Indian citizens.

Other issues raised during the meeting included, violence against Indians in South Africa; post pandemic issues of Indian workers in the Middle East; Challenges for NRIs to open and operate banking accounts in India and the technical problems faced while submitting application for OCI Cards, removing travel restrictions to India for people of Indian origin who are citizens outside India and issues relating to OCI card holders doing business in India, but are treated as foreigners in some areas where changed government rules such as the Biodiversity Act are affecting them. “We also suggest some initiatives through ICCR for sending cultural troupes to PIO countries for India’s 75th Celebration next year.”

Dr. Abraham introduced Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate Dr. Varun Jeph, whom he described as a medical professional, “Dr. Jeph, and has joined the mission only last month and has already reached out all community organizations.”

The ministry of external affairs wants to offer opportunities for every Indian abroad the right to vote, the Minister Muraleedharan said. However, the practical aspect of this major issue has several challenges. Pointing to the fact that Indians are spread over more in almost all 193 countries and coordinating the efforts and ensuring that all those who are eligible are given the opportunity to vote has been a major challenge, while assuring the Diaspora that he will address the issue and follow with the concerned officials.

On Cronoa related travel restrictions, the Minister said, the situation is evolving. We want that every Indian should be given the opportunity to travel to India.  However, it’s based on international civil aviation authority and that commercial flight operations have not started to the full yet. In order to attract foreign tourists to India, the Government has announced that the there will be no charges for visa for the first five lakh Visa applicants to India, Muraleedharan said.

Responding to a question of NRIs not being allowed to own properties in India, he assured “you need not be worried” and said that he is not aware of any law in any state, including in the state of Andhra Pradesh that the properties of NRIs are going to be taken away by the state.

Muraleedharan said, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “a celebration of Indians across the globe so I don’t think that you need to come to India to participate in that. All our Missions are organizing the events and I urge every Community organization to take the lead so that every Indian is involved in the celebration of the 75th year of India’s Independence.”

“I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented” V. Muraleedharan Tells Community Representatives During Interactive Session In Connecticut

“I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented,” India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri V. Muraleedharan during a Reception and Interactive session with the Indian Diaspora on October 12th at the Mill River Hotel in Stamford, CT. Stating that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi calls himself a sewak of every Indian, Muraleedharan said, “The role of the Ministry of External Affairs is to care for the Diaspora. And my visit today is for the purpose of benefitting the Indian Diaspora,” He told the audience.

“India is fully democratic. Judiciary is independent. Media is free. There is no substance to claims that the media is controlled” by the government, declared Shri V. Muraleedharan, who is visiting the United States to address the United Nations.

Muraleedharan, who officially took charge as Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in May 2019, took the opportunity to travel to Connecticut to “listen” directly to the Diaspora and address their concerns. “I’ve been in charge of the External Affairs Ministry for the last 2 years. I was feeling that there is a need for interaction with the Diaspora. And this forum is a place where people have an opportunity to share their problems and concerns,” he told the audience. While assuring the community that he has listened to the concerns of the Diaspora, he will address each one of them and find an amicable solution.

The event was jointly organized by the Consulate of India in New York and GOPIO – CT, led by GOPIO-CT President Ashok Nichani, Exec. VP Prasad Chintalapudi, Secretary Prachi Narayan, Treasurer Biru Sharma, and Joint Secretary Meera Banta. Several past presidents including Sangeeta Ahuja, Shailesh Naik, Shelly Nichani, and Anita Bhat joined in at the reception.

Among others who attended the Reception and the Interactive Session with the Honorable Minister Shri V. Muraleedharan, included, Deputy Consul General of Indian in New York, Dr. Varun Jeph; Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate Mr. A.K.Vijayakrishan; CT Assemblyman Harry Arora, several community organizations including Milan cultural Association President Suresh Sharma; Past President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and CT, Andy Bhatia; CT Tamil Sangam President Shivakumar Subramaniam and past president Uma Sekhar; CT Telugu Association Past President Rao Yelamachali; Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut President T.P. Sujanan; GOPIO Media Council Chair Nami Kaur; Sabinsa Corporation President Dr. Asha Ramesh; and former Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs of GOPIO, Dr. Rupendra Paliwal.

In his introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Abraham, welcoming Minister V. Muraleedharan said, “After the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was merged with the External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his associate Minister Shri Muraleedharan have been dealing with Diaspora affairs. Minister Muraleedharan, we are so pleased that you took some time off your busy schedule at the UN to join us and interact with us,” Dr. Abraham said.

Dr. Abraham provided a brief history of GOPIO International, which was formed at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York, which has now grown into  a Pan-Indian community organization for NRIs and PIOs with over 100 chapters spread in 35 countries. “We at GOPIUO are a partner with Indian missions abroad to protect India’s interest around the world.

Drawing the attention of the Minister on some of the issues of the NRI/PIO community, Dr. Abraham said, “We campaigned for Dual Nationality and the govt. came up with PIO Card and later on with the OCI card. We asked for voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Although voting rights are given, there has been very little participation because of the requirements of physical voting in India. The Election Commission has recommended Proxy Voting, but not implemented yet.”

He urged the government of India to appoint at least two Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, representing the 32 million people of Indian origin living outside India, more than half of them Indian citizens.

Other issues raised during the meeting included, violence against Indians in South Africa; post pandemic issues of Indian workers in the Middle East; Challenges for NRIs to open and operate banking accounts in India and the technical problems faced while submitting application for OCI Cards, removing travel restrictions to India for people of Indian origin who are citizens outside India and issues relating to OCI card holders doing business in India, but are treated as foreigners in some areas where changed government rules such as the Biodiversity Act are affecting them. “We also suggest some initiatives through ICCR for sending cultural troupes to PIO countries for India’s 75th Celebration next year.”

Dr. Abraham introduced Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate Dr. Varun Jeph, whom he described as a medical professional, “Dr. Jeph, and has joined the mission only last month and has already reached out all community organizations.”

The ministry of external affairs wants to offer opportunities for every Indian abroad the right to vote, the Minister said. However, the practical aspect of this major issue has several challenges. Pointing to the fact that Indians are spread over more in almost all 193 countries and coordinating the efforts and ensuring that all those who are eligible are given the opportunity to vote has been a major challenge, while assuring the Diaspora that he will address the issue and follow with the concerned officials.

On Cronoa related travel restrictions, the Minister said, the situation is evolving. We want that every Indian should be given the opportunity to travel to India.  However, it’s based on international civil aviation authority and that commercial flight operations have not started to the full yet. In order to attract foreign tourists to India, the Government has announced that the there will be no charges for visa for the first five lakh Visa applicants to India, Muraleedharan said.

On Press Freedom in India, the Minister categorically denied that Government is interfering with or “controlling” the media. “Allegations that the Indian media is controlled by the government doesn’t have any substance to it,” he said. Pointing to the fact that there are several media who are openly critical of the government, he asked the audience, “If the freedom for the media is restricted, how can the media be allowed to be critical of the Government? How could the media publish the stories of the bodies floating in the Ganges during the peak of the Pandemic, even though the situation is far from what was reported?” He described such allegations as totally fals and there is a need for the “management of perception.”

Responding to a question of NRIs not being allowed to own properties in India, he assured “you need not be worried” and said that he is not aware of any law in any state, including in the state of Andhra Pradesh that the properties of NRIs are going to be taken away by the state.

Muraleedharan said, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “a celebration of Indians across the globe so I don’t think that you need to come to India to participate in that. All our Missions are organizing the events and I urge every Community organization to take the lead so that every Indian is involved in the celebration of the 75th year of India’s Independence,”

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Pope Francis Welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi At The Vatican Biden To Meet The Pontiff on October 29th

Pope Francis granted a private audience in the Vatican to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Saturday, October 9th during her recent visit to Italy.

It has been reported that President Biden will meet with Francis on October 29th. While serving as the U.S. Vice President, Biden had met with Pope Francis for the first time in September 2015, when the pope visited the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The following year, on April 29, 2016, Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he praised Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer. Biden had opened his speech at the Vatican by recalling how, while visiting the United States the previous September, Pope Francis had comforted him after the loss of his eldest son Beau, who passed away the previous summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Rome for a gathering of legislative leaders of G20 countries ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Summit in Scotland later this month. “It was a spiritual, personal and official honor to have an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis this morning,” the speaker said in a statement.

Francis’ private meeting with Pelosi, a Catholic and a defender of abortion rights, came as American Catholic bishops consider how to press the church’s teaching against abortion while the country’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden, heads an avowedly pro-choice Democratic administration

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But Francis has cautioned the American bishops — who have debated whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians — not to move too quickly and has repeatedly signaled he does not want the Eucharist to become a political weapon. Flying home from his papal visit to central Europe on Sept. 15, he noted that he has never denied the Eucharist to anyone and that bishops risk becoming embroiled in “political problems” when they don’t act “like shepherds.”

The issue, which dominated the bishops’ national meeting in June, was spurred in part by criticism of pro-choice Catholic leaders by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who has advocated denying Communion to pro-choice elected officials based in his archdiocese — which would include Pelosi. On Sept. 29, after a bill aimed at overcoming a Texas law severely restricting abortion passed the House, Cordileone asked Catholics to pray for a “conversion of heart” for Pelosi and other Democratic representatives.

The speaker, in her statement on the meeting, emphasized the pontiff’s support for measures to combat climate change. “His Holiness’s encyclical Laudato Si’ is a powerful challenge to the global community to act decisively on the climate crisis with special attention to the most vulnerable communities.”  She went on to praise “the immense moral clarity and urgency that His Holiness continues to bring to the climate crisis.”

Pelosi also met with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a department created by Francis five years ago to oversee the church’s efforts on issues such as migrants, prisoners, the unemployed and other marginalized people, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, slavery and torture. The meetings came as President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate former lawmaker and anti-abortion Democrat Joseph Donnelly to serve as his Vatican ambassador.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Thursday, October 7th with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Mario Draghi, who paid tribute to her “calm, determined” leadership even during difficult years for Europe and the common currency. Merkel herself has called this her farewell bilateral trip to Italy as chancellor, and her unusually long 45-minute papal audience and glowing tribute from Draghi indicated her Roman counterparts wanted to pay their respects, too. Merkel and her outgoing government will stay in office on a caretaker basis until a new administration is in place, a process that could take weeks or months.

Acclaimed Indian Actor, Nedumudi Venu Passes Away At 73

Nedumudi Venu, rated as one of the most talented actors in Indian cinema, died at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on Monday. He was 73. Having recovered from Covid-19, Venu had been in a critical condition for some time due to liver-related ailments.

After initially being admitted to the hospital on October 5th with tiredness and weakness, he was transferred to intensive care on Saturday, a spokesman for the private facility where he was treated told the media. The doctor treating Venu told the media that he died of kidney-related issues and sepsis.  Liaison officer Praveen Jojo of KIMS Health in Thiruvananthapuram, said Venu had breathed his last on Monday, October 11th.

Born in 1948 in Nedumudi in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, Venu began his career as a theatre artiste with famous dramatist Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s experimental theatre group. He entered films in 1978 with G. Aravindan’s Thambu.

Nedumudi Venu won three National Film Awards, and six Kerala State Film Awards for his performances. Venu was known for his roles in “His Highness Abdullah,” “Bharatham” and “Margam,” among others. His most memorable performance that established Venu as a talent in Malayalam cinema was in Thakara in which he played the role of a village carpenter. Some of his best films included Aravam, Vidaparayum Munpe, Kallan Pavithran, Chamaram, Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam, Chithram, Thenmavin Kombath, Margam and Arimpara. Ente Mazha directed by Subrahmanyam was his last film.

In his film career spanning over four decades, Venu acted in over 500 movies in Tamil and Malayalam as hero, villain and character actor. According to film scholar N. Balagopal, Venu was one of the few actors in Indian cinema who excelled both as stylized actor and realistic actor, which in Indian theatre tradition is called Natya Dharmi and Lokadharmi, respectively.

Over the decades, Nedumudi Venu shone as an actor who could deliver powerful performances. His talent at handling serious and comedic roles with equal aplomb was admired in the industry. He turned screenwriter for films like Kattathe Kilikkoodu, Theertham, Sruthi, Ambada Njane, Oru Katha Oru Nunnakkatha, Savidham and Angane Oru Avadhikkalathu. The actor also helmed a film titled Pooram. Besides acting, Venu was also adept at playing the mridangam.

Actor-filmmaker Prithviraj Sukumaran took to Twitter to mourn the demise of Nedumudi Venu. Sharing a photo of the veteran artiste, Prithviraj wrote, “Farewell Venu uncle! Your body of work and your expertise over the craft will forever be research material for generations to come! Rest in peace legend! NedumudiVenu.”

Filmmaker Sangeeth Sivan also expressed grief at the news. His post read, “Absolutely shattered to know that NedumudiVenu is no more! One of our finest actors. Such a huge loss to Malayalam cinema. He leaves behind an impressive & varied filmography & will live in our hearts forever. OmShanti.”

India’s Economy To Grow By 8.3%, Making It 2nd Fastest Growing-Major Economy

India’s economy is expected to grow by 8.3 per cent this fiscal year, according to the World Bank, making it the second-fastest-growing major economy. The Bank’s Regional Economic Update released on Thursday said that after the “deadly second wave” of Covid-19 in India “the pace of vaccination, which is increasing, will determine economic prospects this year and beyond”. “The trajectory of the pandemic will cloud the outlook in the near-term until herd immunity is achieved,” it cautioned.

According to the Update issued ahead of the Bank’s annual meeting next week, India’ gross domestic product (GDP) — which shrank by 7.3 per cent (that is, a minus 7.3 per cent) under the onslaught of the pandemic last fiscal year — is expected to record the 8.3 per cent growth this fiscal year, which will moderate to 7.5 per cent next year and 6.5 per cent in 2023-24. Of the major economies, China is ahead with its economy expected to grow by 8.5 per cent during the current calendar year after the Bank revised it upwards from the 8.1 per cent projection in April.

China’s growth rate is projected to come down to 5.4 per cent next year and 5.3 per cent in 2023. Last year, it grew by 2.3 per cent. For the entire South Asia region, the Bank’s Update estimates the GDP growth to be 7.1 per cent this year and the next. Maldives’ tiny economy of $3.8 billion, which had the steepest fall of 33.6 per cent last calendar year is expected to recover and record a growth of 22.3 per cent this year. Next year it is expected come down to 11 per cent and 12 per cent in 2023.

Bangladesh, which recorded a growth of 5 per cent last fiscal year, is expected to grow by 6.4 per cent this year and 6.9 per cent the next.

Pakistan’s economy that grew by 3.5 last fiscal year, is expected to grow by 3.4 per cent this year and 4 per cent next year.

For Sri Lanka, the Bank expects a growth of 3.3 per cent this calendar year compared to a shrinkage of 3.6 per cent last year and to grow by 2.1per cent next year and 2.2 per cent the following year.

Bhutan, which had a negative growth of 1.2 per cent the last fiscal year, is expected to reach 3.6 per cent this fiscal year and 4.3 per cent the next.

Nepal’s growth is expected to rebound from last fiscal year’s 1.8 per cent to 3.9 per cent this fiscal year and 4.7 per cent the next.

The Bank said, “The Covid-19 pandemic led India’s economy into a deep contraction in FY21(fiscal year 2020-21) despite well-crafted fiscal and monetary policy support.”

It said that growth recovered in the second half of the last fiscal year “driven primarily by investment and supported by aunlocking’ of the economy and targeted fiscal, monetary and regulatory measures. Manufacturing and construction growth recovered steadily.”

Although significantly more lives were lost during the second wave of the epidemic this year in India, compared to the first wave in 2020, “economic disruption was limited since restrictions were localised,” with the GDP growing by 20.1 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal year compared to the first quarter of 2020-21, the Update said. It attributed the spurt to “a significant base effect” (that is, coming off a very big fall in the compared quarter), “strong export growth and limited damage to domestic demand.”

Looking ahead, the Bank’s Update said that “successful implementation of agriculture and labour reforms would boost medium-term growth” while cautioning that “weakened household and firm balance sheets may constrain it.” “The Production-Linked Incentives scheme to boost manufacturing, and a planned increase in public investment, should support domestic demand,” it said.

The extent of recovery during the current fiscal year “will depend on how quickly household incomes recover and activity in the informal sector and smaller firms normalises.” Among the risks, it listed “worsening of financial sector stress, higher-than-expected inflation constraining monetary-policy support, and a slowdown in vaccination.”

Taking stock of the pandemic’s effects, the Bank said, “The toll of the crisis has not been equal, and the recovery so far is uneven,leaving behind the most vulnerable sections of the society – low-skilled, women, self-employed and small firms.” But it said that the Indian government has taken steps to strengthen social safety nets and ease structural supply constraints through agricultural and labour reforms deal with the inequality.

It said that the government continued investing in health programs “have started to address the weaknesses in health infrastructure and social safety nets (especially in the urban areas and the informal sector) exposed by the pandemic.” (IANS

Majority Republicans Want Trump To Retain Major Role; 44% Want Him To Run Again

Two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they would like to see former President Donald Trump continue to be a major political figure for many years to come, including 44% who say they would like him to run for president in 2024, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted Sept. 13 to 19.

About one-in-five Republicans (22%) say that while they would like Trump to continue to be a major political figure in the United States, they would prefer he use his stature to support another presidential candidate who shares his views in the 2024 election rather than run for office himself. About a third of Republicans (32%) say they would not like Trump to remain a national political figure for many years to come.

How we did this The share of Republicans who say Trump should continue to be a major national figure has grown 10 percentage points – from 57% to 67% – since a January survey that was conducted in the waning days of his administration and in the immediate wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are essentially unchanged over this time period. Today, 92% of Democrats say they would not like to see Trump continue to be a major national political figure in the future, while just 7% say they would like to see this. Among Republicans, views on whether Trump should continue to be a major political figure or run for office in the next presidential election vary by age, education and ideology.

For example, 72% of Republicans with some college experience or less (who make up a clear majority of Republicans) say Trump should be a major figure, with half saying he should run for president in 2024. By contrast, a narrower majority (54%) of Republicans with a college degree or more say Trump should remain a prominent figure, including just 28% who say he should run for office in the next presidential election.

Among conservative Republicans, there is widespread support for Trump remaining a national political figure: Three-quarters prefer this, including 49% who say he should run for president again in 2024. Moderate and liberal Republicans are more divided: 51% say he should play an ongoing political role, with 33% saying he should run for president himself in 2024; 47% say he should not continue to play a major political role. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say their party should not be accepting of elected officials who criticize Trump

A 63% majority of Republicans say their party should be not too (32%) or not at all (30%) accepting of elected officials who openly criticize Trump, according to the new survey. Just 36% of Republicans say the GOP should be very (11%) or somewhat (26%) accepting of officials who do so. By contrast, about six-in-ten Democrats say the Democratic Party should be very (17%) or somewhat accepting (40%) of Democratic elected officials who openly criticize President Joe Biden.

Majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike say their party should be accepting of elected officials who agree with the other party on important issues. Two-thirds of Democrats say the Democratic Party should be accepting of Democratic officials who agree with the GOP on important issues. A slimmer majority of Republicans (55%) say the GOP should be accepting of officials who agree with Democrats on some important issues. The survey also asked about the acceptability of elected officials from one party calling their counterparts in the other party “evil.” A majority of Democrats (57%) and about half of Republicans (52%) say their parties should be not too or not at all accepting of officials who do this.

About four-in-ten Democrats (41%) say their party should be accepting of elected officials in their own party who call GOP officials evil, with 13% saying their party should be very accepting of this. Among Republicans, 46% say their party should be accepting of officials who call their Democratic counterparts evil, including 18% who say the party should be very accepting of these officials. The share of Republicans who say their party should be accepting of elected officials who openly criticize Trump has declined since March. Today, 36% of Republicans say it is at least somewhat acceptable for Republican elected officials to openly criticize Trump, down from 43% earlier this year.

There has also been a decline in the share of Democrats who say their party should be accepting of Democratic elected officials who openly criticize Biden. A narrow majority of Democrats (57%) say this is acceptable, down from 68% in March.

Dr. Mathai Mammen Honored By India Community Center At Annual Gala

Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of Research and Development for the Janssen Pharmaceuticals wing of Johnson & Johnson, has been honored with the India Community Center’s annual Inspire award for his work in developing the single shot J&J Covid-19 vaccine, at the organization’s annual banquet Oct. 2.

ICC’s 18th annual gala was held virtually for the second time, in keeping with Covid-19 safety protocols, which discourage gatherings of large groups indoors. A friendly-but-competitive live auction, followed by a lively pledge drive, quickly raised more than $257,000 to support the community center, a second home to many Indian American seniors and youth. “J&J, BioNTech, and Moderna had never created vaccines before. But everyone saw the public health crisis that was happening — as 10,000 people died each day — and wanted to help,” said Mammen, who was interviewed at the gala by Divya Ganesan, a Stanford University freshman, and co-founder of Real Talk Ed.

“To think of making a vaccine in such a short time was unthinkable. This would typically be a seven-year process,” said Mammen, noting that 600 people at J&J mobilized on a 24-hour/seven days a week schedule to develop a vaccine. “We broke all our normal processes,” said the Indian American. “We had invested in good science that we put into play.” “The journey was unlike anything we had ever seen. For 14 months, no one ever took a day off. I don’t think the world recognizes what it took to make this vaccine,” said Mammen.

Dr. Mammen’s mission is to work with the best research and development professionals in the world to make meaningful medicines that impact the lives of patients, their families and communities. Prior to joining Janssen in June 2017, Dr. Mammen was Senior Vice President at Merck Research Laboratories, responsible for research in the areas of Cardiovascular, Metabolic and Renal Diseases, Oncology/Immuno-Oncology and Immunology. Jointly with his team, he initiated numerous new programs and progressed eight into early clinical development. He also nucleated a new discovery site in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Prior to Merck, Dr. Mammen led R&D at Theravance, a company he co-founded in 1997 based on his work at Harvard University. Under his leadership, the Theravance team of 200 scientists nominated 31 development candidates in 17 years, created three approved products (Breo®, Anoro®, Vibativ®), two additional assets that have successfully completed Phase 3 studies and a pipeline containing 11 further development-stage compounds in 2016. In 2014, he and the Theravance Leadership Team separated Theravance into two publicly traded companies: Innoviva (INVA) and Theravance Biopharma (TBPH).

Dr. Mammen has more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and patents and serves on various boards and advisory committees. He received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts Institute of Technology (HST program) and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry, working with George Whitesides. He received his BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Kajol and Revathy Collaborate For Film, The Last Hurrah

Famed Bollywood veteran actress Kajol is collaborating with actress-turned-director Revathy for her upcoming new film, The Last Hurrah. Taking to Instgaram on Thursday, the My Name Is Khan  actress shared the exciting news with her fans and posted an adorable click with the 2 States actress.

Calling it an inspiring story, Kajol, 47, captioned the picture as, “So happy to announce my next film with the super awesome Revathi directing me.. called ‘The Last Hurrah’. A heartwarming story that made me instantly say YES! Can I hear a “Yipppeee” please.

Described as a big moment for the Bollywood world, the two extraordinary talents collaborating to create something remarkable has created much enthusiasm among millions of their fans worldwide.  Both have created milestones with their work in the Indian film industry and this dream team is going to create an inspiring story with their upcoming film, “The Last Hurrah.”

Inspired by a true story and real characters, “The Last Hurrah” tells a tale of an exemplary mother, Sujata, who battled the most challenging situations one can face with a smile. The film is currently in pre-production and will soon go on floors.Talking about her first collaboration with Kajol and choosing this story for her, Revathy shares, “Sujata’s journey is extremely close to my heart. It’s not only relatable but also inspiring. When Suuraj, Shraddha and I were discussing this film, Kajol was the first person who came to mind. Her soft yet energetic eyes and her beautiful smile will make you believe that anything is possible and that is exactly how Sujata is. I am very excited for this collaboration and to be working with Kajol for this heartening story.”

Elated to come together with Revathy, Kajol adds, “When I heard the story of “The Last Hurrah,” I could instantly connect with Sujata and I thought her journey was incredibly inspiring. I think it’s a beautiful journey and it deserves to be shared with everyone. And to have Revathy direct me for this story gives me more strength to play Sujata and showcase her strengths.”

Bringing together the dynamic new duo, Revathy and Kajol, producers Suuraj Singh and Shraddha Agrawal say, “We think it is a coup for us to be able to get these two powerhouses. With Revathy’s nuanced direction and Kajol’s outstanding performance, we are sure that this film is going to touch many hearts.”

Produced under the banner of Blive Productions and Take 23 Studios, the film is written by Sammeer Arora.