A Good Pay Raise Next Year Expected As Companies Struggle To Fill Jobs

The amount of money companies are setting aside for raises is expected to rise at the fastest rate in more than a decade, as employers fight to keep and hire workers in a historically tight labor market, a new survey says.  

Budgets for wage hikes are projected to jump 3.9% next year, the biggest annual leap since 2008, according to a November survey of compensation executives by the Conference Board, a nonprofit membership group of mostly large businesses.  

The growing pools of cash are meant to entice young workers and hold on to existing staff at a time when a record number of jobs are going unfilled, and consumers are dealing with the worst inflation in 39 years.   

“Growth in wages for new hires and accelerating inflation are the main causes of the jump in salary increase budgets,’’ the report said. It added that 46% of executives said higher pay for new employees was a reason for the larger pay pools that are expected, while 39% said inflation helped fuel the increase.

The consumer price index increased 6.8% in November as compared to the previous year, the fastest pace since 1982, with the cost of groceries, gas, rent and cars all on the rise, the Labor Department said Friday.

Labor shortage and wages

Budgets for salary increases have already risen, with the average pool of cash increasing by 3% in the survey taken last month, compared with the 2.6% that was predicted in an earlier survey in April.

A labor shortage has helped spark a ripple effect, enabling younger people entering the workforce to earn higher wages, more experienced employees to pursue new positions and potentially higher pay, and blue-collar workers to demand union representation and better work conditions.

“The rapid increase in wages and inflation are forcing businesses to make important decisions regarding their approach to salaries, recruiting, and retention,’’ the Conference Board report said, It tnoted that labor shortages will probably continue through 2022 while wages likely increase by more than 4%.

Blue-collar workers as well as those in unions are also expected to see pay hikes. “Wages for new hires, and workers in blue-collar and manual services jobs will grow faster than average,’’ the report wrote. 

Workers, from Kellogg cereal facilities to university faculty to Starbucks stores, are demanding higher wages and improved working conditions amid a pandemic that many say magnified inequities and disparities.

The pay hikes many businesses are offering could cost consumers if companies raise the price of services or goods to cover the higher wages, says the Conference Board.. 

And the Federal Reserve may boost interest rates beyond the two increases that economists are already projecting for next year to help slow inflation, according to the Board.

Gita Gopinath Promoted As First Deputy Managing Director At IMF

Indian-American Gita Gopinath, the chief economist of International Monetary Fund, is being promoted as IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director, the fund announced last week. She would replace Geoffrey Okamoto who plans to leave the Fund early next year. Ms. Gopinath, who was scheduled to return to her academic position at Harvard University in January 2022, has served as the IMF’s chief economist for three years. Gopinath was to return to her position as John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics, Harvard University in January 2022.

“Both Geoffrey and Gita are tremendous colleagues — I am sad to see Geoffrey go but, at the same time, I am delighted that Gita has decided to stay and accept the new responsibility of being our FDMD,” said Kristalina Georgieva, IMF’s Managing Director.

Ms. Georgieva said Ms. Gopinath’s contribution to the Fund’s work has already been exceptional, especially her “intellectual leadership in helping the global economy and the Fund to navigate the twists and turns of the worst economic crisis of our lives.”

She also said Ms. Gopinath — the first female chief economist in IMF history — has garnered respect and admiration across member countries and the institution with a proven track record in leading analytically rigorous work on a broad range of issues.

The IMF has had 10 occupants of the FDMD chair since the position was created in 1949. Each – only one of them a woman – has been a citizen of the US. Gopinath too is a US citizen.

Noteworthy that Gopinath wasn’t always the topper type she became as an economics undergraduate in Delhi’s Lady Shriram College. Till her Class 7, she was at around 45 per cent and then toyed with the idea of professional sports. Also, she briefly showed up for modelling.

In an interview to an Indian weekly some years back, her mother, V.C. Vijayalakshmi, had talked of the ascent since Class 7: “The girl who used to score 45 per cent till class seven, started scoring 90 per cent.”

Then a good science intermediate degree at Maharaja PU in Mysore and topping Delhi University in BA. “She created quite a flutter by bagging the gold medal as LSR had beaten St Stephen’s for the first time, and by just two marks.” Like many kids her age in India, Gopinath also entertained ideas of taking the civil services exam and MBA too.

Today, the IMF MD spoke of the struggling Class 7 student thus: “…given that the pandemic has led to an increase in the scale and scope of the macroeconomic challenges facing our member countries, I believe that Gita – universally recognised as one of the world’s leading macroeconomists – has precisely the expertise that we need for the FDMD role at this point. Indeed, her particular skill set – combined with her years of experience at the Fund as Chief Economist – make her uniquely well qualified. She is the right person at the right time.”

Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, noted Gopinath’s contribution has already been exceptional, especially her “intellectual leadership in helping the global economy and the Fund to navigate the twists and turns of the worst economic crisis of our lives”.

She said Gopinath – also the first female Chief Economist in IMF history – has garnered respect and admiration across our member countries and the institution, with a proven track record in leading analytically rigorous work on a broad range of issues.

Georgieva said that the IMF’s Research Department had gone from “strength to strength”, particularly highlighting its contributions in multilateral surveillance via The World Economic Outlook, a new analytical approach to help countries respond to international capital flows (the integrated policy framework), and work on a Pandemic Plan to end the Covid-19 crisis by setting targets to vaccinate the world at feasible cost.

Born in Kolkata, Gopinath will take the lead on surveillance and related policies, oversee research and flagship publications and help foster standards for Fund publications.

Gopinath has a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University in 2001 after the B.A. from LSR and M.A. degrees from Delhi School of Economics and University of Washington. She is the younger of two daughters of T.V. Gopinath and Vijayalakshmi. They are both from Kannur, Kerala and settled in Mysuru.

Understanding Medicare Fraud

“Corruption, embezzlement, fraud are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably how human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is keep it to a minimum. But, unfortunately, no one has ever eliminated any of that stuff”- said. Alan Greenspan, on the evil characteristic of frauds in general.

In USA, the system of Medicare benefits has been an abundant resource for fraudsters. Medicare improper payments were estimated to be $25.74 billion in fiscal year 2020. However, the amount of improper payments made in Medicare are significant, during 2019 representing to an amount of $28.91 billion.

Medicare fraud occurs when someone, whether doctors or patients or scammers, knowingly deceives Medicare to receive payment when they receive a higher payment than they should. Committing fraud is illegal and should be reported. Anyone can commit or be involved in fraud, and there are cases of fraudsters  including doctors, other providers, and Medicare beneficiaries.

Some common examples of Medicare fraud include billing for services that were not provided, over billing, billing unnecessary services, misrepresenting dates of service or providers of service, and paying kickbacks for patient referrals.

Medicare fraud happens when someone illegally use their Medicare card to get medical care, supplies, or equipment, or sell their Medicare number to someone who bills Medicare for services not received, or provide their Medicare number in exchange for money or a gift.

But sporadic instances of frauds are committed by greedy doctors, and a recent case reported, unveils an example of similar cases.

Ravi Murali, 39, formerly from Wisconsin, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 54 months in federal prison for Dr. Murali’s role in defraud Medicare. He pleaded guilty to this charge on March 31, 2021.

Dr. Murali wrote thousands of fraudulent orders for Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Other participants in the scheme used Dr. Murali’s fraudulent orders to bill Medicare $26,000,000, of which Medicare paid $13,000,000.

As we all know, Medicare is complicated. What may seem like an error to the beneficiary, may result from a misunderstanding about benefits.

It may also be abuse, which involves billing Medicare for services that are not covered or are not correctly coded. The provider has not knowingly and intentionally misrepresented the facts to obtain payment.

Medicare fraud assumes criminal offense. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) defines fraud as “the intentional deception or misrepresentation that the individual knows to be false or does not believe to be true,” and that is made “knowing that the deception could result in some unauthorized benefit to themselves or some other person.

Some common examples of suspected Medicare fraud or abuse are:

  • Billing for services or supplies that were not provided
  • Providing unsolicited supplies to beneficiaries
  • Misrepresenting a diagnosis, a beneficiary’s identity, the service provided, or other facts to justify payment
  • Prescribing or providing excessive or unnecessary tests and services
  • Violating the participating provider agreement with Medicare by refusing to bill Medicare for covered services or items and billing the beneficiary instead
  • Offering or receiving a kickback (bribe) in exchange for a beneficiary’s Medicare number
  • Requesting Medicare numbers at an educational presentation or in an unsolicited phone call
  • Routinely waiving co-insurance to attract business

The federal government has made significant strides in reducing fraud, waste, and improper payments across the government.

The CMS “Guard Your Card” campaign tells people how they can protect themselves against fraud by:

  • Never give out their Medicare or Social Security Number to anyone except those you know should have it.
  • They reported any suspicious activities like being asked over the phone for their Medicare/Social Security number or banking information. Medicare will NEVER call you uninvited for this information.
  • By checking their billing statements and reporting suspicious charges. Using a calendar to track doctor’s appointments and services helps quickly spot possible fraud and billing mistakes. Check claims early by logging into gov.

Any suspicious activities may be reported by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Under the False Claims Act (FCA), the government may pay a reward of up to 30% to people who report healthcare fraud. In September 2019, TELG client Kevin Manieri was awarded more than $12 million for reporting that a drug company defrauded Medicare and other government insurance programs by encouraging doctors to prescribe an unnecessary medication to patients.

Health care fraud is a felony under Michigan’s Health Care False Claims Act, punishable by up to four years in prison, a $50,000 fine and loss of health insurance. It’s also a federal criminal offense under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

India Ranked Fourth Most Powerful Country In Asia

India is the fourth most powerful country in Asia, as per the Lowy Institute Asia Power Index 2021. The annual Asia Power Index — launched by the Lowy Institute in 2018 — measures resources and influence to rank the relative power of states in Asia. The project maps out the existing distribution of power as it stands today, and tracks shifts in the balance of power over time.

The top 10 countries for overall power in the Asia-Pacific region are the US, China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, Lowy Institute said.

India is ranked as a middle power in Asia. As the fourth most powerful country in Asia, India again falls short of the major power threshold in 2021. Its overall score declined by two points compared to 2020. India is one of eighteen countries in the region to trend downward in its overall score in 2021, the report said.

The country performs best in the future resources measure, where it finishes behind only the US and China. However, lost growth potential for Asia’s third largest economy due largely to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has led to a diminished economic forecast for 2030, Lowy Institute said.

India finishes in 4th place in four other measures: economic capability, military capability, resilience and cultural influence.

India is trending in opposite directions for its two weakest measures of power.

On the one hand, it remains in 7th place in its defense networks, reflecting progress in its regional defense diplomacy — notably with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes Australia, Japan and the US. On the other hand, India has slipped into 8th position for economic relationships, as it falls further behind in regional trade integration efforts, Lowy Institute said.

India exerts less influence in the region than expected given its available resources, as indicated by the country’s negative power gap score. Its negative power gap score has deteriorated further in 2021 relative to previous years.

As per the report, many developing economies, including India, have been hardest hit in comparison to their pre-Covid growth paths. This has the potential to reinforce bipolarity in the Indo-Pacific, driven by the growing power differential of the two superpowers, the US and China, in relation to nearly every other emerging power in the region.

The US beat the downward trend in 2021 and has overtaken China in two critical rankings. But its gains are dogged by a rapid loss of economic influence.

China’s comprehensive power has fallen for the first time, with no clear path to undisputed primacy in the Indo-Pacific.

Uneven economic impacts and recoveries from the pandemic will likely continue to alter the regional balance of power well into the decade. Only Taiwan, the United States and Singapore are now predicted to have larger economies in 2030 than originally forecast prior to the pandemic.

Yet richer countries, such as Japan, have seen their economic prospects improve not just relative to 2020, but also to economies with lower vaccination rates. China, which avoided a recession last year, is not far behind. (IANS)

VISA Complains To U.S. Of India Backing Rupay

Visa Inc has complained to the U.S. government that India’s “informal and formal” promotion of domestic payments rival RuPay hurts the U.S. giant in a key market, memos seen by Reuters show.

In public Visa has downplayed concerns about the rise of RuPay, which has been supported by public lobbying from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has included likening the use of local cards to national service.

But U.S. government memos show Visa raised concerns about a “level playing field” in India during an Aug. 9 meeting between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and company executives, including CEO Alfred Kelly.

Mastercard Inc has raised similar concerns privately with the USTR. Reuters reported in 2018 that the company had lodged a protest with the USTR that Modi was using nationalism to promote the local network.

Alfred Kelly, Jr., CEO, Visa Inc. speaks at the 2019 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

“Visa remains concerned about India’s informal and formal policies that appear to favor the business of National Payments Corporation of India” (NPCI), the non-profit that runs RuPay, “over other domestic and foreign electronic payments companies,” said a USTR memo prepared for Tai ahead of the meeting.

Visa, USTR, Modi’s office and the NPCI did not respond to requests for comment.

Modi has promoted homegrown RuPay for years, posing a challenge to Visa and Mastercard in the fast-growing payments market. RuPay accounted for 63% of India’s 952 million debit and credit cards as of November 2020, according to the most recent regulatory data on the company, up from just 15% in 2017.

Publicly, Kelly said in May that for years there was “a lot of concern” that the likes of RuPay could be “potentially problematic” for Visa, but he stressed that his company remained India’s market leader.

“That’s going to be something we’re going to continually deal with and have dealt with for years. So there’s nothing new there,” he told an industry event.

Modi, in a 2018 speech, portrayed the use of RuPay as patriotic, saying that since “everyone cannot go to the border to protect the country, we can use RuPay card to serve the nation.”

When Visa raised its concerns during the USTR gathering on Aug. 9, it cited the Indian leader’s “speech where he basically called on India to use RuPay as a show of service to the country,” according to an email U.S. officials exchanged on the meeting’s readout.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last year that “RuPay is the only card” banks should promote. The government has also promoted a RuPay-based card for public transportation payments.

While RuPay dominates the number of cards in India, most transactions still go through Visa and Mastercard as most RuPay cards were simply issued by banks under Modi’s financial inclusion program, industry sources say.

Visa told the U.S. government it was concerned India’s “push to use transit cards linked to RuPay” and “the not so subtle pressure on banks to issue” RuPay cards, the USTR email showed.

Mastercard and Visa count India as a key growth market, but have been jolted by a 2018 central bank directive for them to store payments data “only in India” for “unfettered supervisory access”.

Mastercard faces an indefinite ban on issuing new cards in India after the central bank said it was not complying with the 2018 rules. A USTR official privately called the Mastercard ban “draconian”, Reuters reported in September.

Is India Against Cryptocurrencies?

While the crypto currency market is booming and thousands of new virtual currencies are being mined every week, many financial experts and governments are vehemently raising voice to ban all cryptos for various reasons.

Last week, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said the Reserve Bank had “serious concerns from the point of view of macro-economic and financial stability” and that blockchain technology can thrive without cryptocurrencies. Really, there is a grain of truth to the claim that cryptocurrencies are rivals of central banks as they cannot control them like sovereign money.

India has recently taken a more keen note on cryptocurrencies, thanks to its robust growth in the country amid a lack of regulations. However, things are likely to undergo a drastic change, with the government eager to bring in rules and regulations in the digital currency sector. (News18.com 12/18/2021).

There are thousands of virtual currencies on the market today, which are known as cryptocurrencies. Such currencies exchanged through crypto exchanges have not yet been approved by any country or central bank. Recently, El Salvador, a Central American country, officially recognized only the powerful Bitcoin.

But the CBDC is the official cryptocurrency issued by the Central Bank of India. This is the main difference between other cryptocurrencies and CDBC. The CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) will also be  marketed through the blockchain technology as done by other virtual currencies . It is likely to be a digital token or electronic form of the current currency. The Reserve Bank of India will be in charge of supervising and monitoring the official crypto of the Indian government. Digital money cannot be withdrawn as we usually withdraw from banks and ATMs. Their transactions will be through digital platforms. It is not yet clear whether it will be listed on other crypto exchanges.

There is no doubt that the operation of private currencies is being restricted to strengthen the official cryptocurrencies. There are some valid points to know about the official cryptocurrency of India.

The primary concern for India’s central bank is the anonymity that virtual currencies offer to their investors. While the record of cryptos is kept on an open ledger, the owner’s identity is not revealed. This can create problems for banks and the IRS to track the flow of money. And hence cryptocurrencies could be used to transfer illegal money or evade taxes and fund terrorist activities.

Digital currency will reduce the difference between the value of an ordinary currency and the cost of printing it. The bottom line is that government spending will go down. Meanwhile, the RBI Due to the restrictions, the value of digital currency will not fluctuate as seen in cryptocurrencies. This is where investors are most likely to stay away.

The total amount of digital currency issued can be converted into cash and is part of the currency in circulation in the economy. Over the last 5-6 years, the currency, including notes and coins, has grown from Rs 16.63 lakh crore to Rs 28.60 lakh crore. One of the main reasons for the rise in inflation is the circulation of this currency in the markets.

With the advent of digital currency, the RBI’s ability to intervene in markets will increase. Digital currency can reduce the amount of money in the market. After Kovid, people are increasingly using digital means.

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin Appoints MR Rangaswami As State’s ‘Investment Ambassador’

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has appointed a prominent Indian American venture capitalist, M.R. Rangaswami as Tamil Nadu’s ‘Investment Ambassador’ on Friday, November 26.

Rangaswami has been an active member of the Indian American community whose influence has inspired many.

Over the years he has worn many hats including being an entrepreneur, investor, corporate eco-strategy expert, community builder and a philanthropist.

Most importantly, he is the founder of Indiaspora, a nonprofit who mission is to unite the Indian diaspora and to transform their success into meaningful impact in India and on the global stage.

By sharing insights, hosting events and connecting people, Indiaspora unites the professionally, geographically and religiously diverse Indian American community toward collective action, the press release said.

On honoring him his new crown, CM Stalin praised Rangaswami for his achievements in the US.

Dr. VGP, an Indian American community leader and president of the World Federation of Tamil Youth, USA in Chicago, congratulated CM Stalin on the appointment and said Tamil Nadu will soon become India’s number one industrialized state under Rangaswami’s captaincy, it said.

Neil Khot, national chairman of the Indian American Business Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., congratulated Rangasawami, saying that he is an excellent and apt choice who can make things happen.

Tamil Nadu has made giant strides in attracting global investment recently, thanks to IAS officer T. Muruganandam, who was till recently industries secretary and was now promoted to the key position as the state’s finance secretary, noted the release.

The event was attended by Rangaswami wife and his two children, who have been supportive of his past endeavors and his current leadership position to tackle more India-centric issues.

Will The $1.75 Trillion Spending Bill Passed By US Congress Survive US Senate?

After months of wrangling, House Democrats managed a big win Friday, November 19th passing their roughly $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package despite a Republican effort to delay the final vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wearing white, announced the passage of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” with the vote falling largely along party lines at 220-213.

The final tally was 220 to 213. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to vote against the bill and no Republicans voted for it. The vote took place on Friday morning after House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy stalled an effort to vote Thursday evening by delivering a record-breaking marathon floor speech overnight.

The sweeping economic legislation stands as a key pillar of Biden’s domestic agenda. It would deliver on longstanding Democratic priorities by dramatically expanding social services for Americans, working to mitigate the climate crisis, increasing access to health care and delivering aid to families and children.

The legislation is meant to fulfill many of President Biden’s promises during the 2020 campaign, including plans to address climate change and provide a stronger federal safety net for families and low-income workers.  “We have the Built Back Better bill that is historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the House floor. “If you’re a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American … this bill’s for you and it is better.”

House Democrats overcame internal divisions over the cost and scope of the spending package, but the fight will continue as the bill heads to the Senate for revisions. The vote was delayed after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke all through the night — for more than eight hours. His speech decried Democrats’ spending plans, but also veered to subjects including China and border security.

“Never in American history has so much been spent at one time,” he said. “Never in American history will so many taxes be raised and so much borrowing be needed to pay for all this reckless spending.”

Biden praised House passage of the bill, noting it was the second time in two weeks that the chamber moved two “consequential” pieces of his legislative agenda, referencing the new infrastructure law. He described the vote as a “giant step forward in carrying out my economic plan to create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance.” What’s in the measure

The legislation includes:

$550 billion to address climate change through incentives and tax breaks;

funding to extend the expanded, monthly child tax credit for one year; housing assistance, including $150 billion in affordable housing expenditures; expansions to Medicaid and further assistance to reduce the cost of health care premiums for plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act; four weeks of paid family and medical leave; funding for universal pre-K for roughly 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds; a provision to allow Medicare Parts B and D to negotiate prices directly with drug manufacturers on certain drugs and cap out-of-pocket spending for seniors at $2,000 per year; a $35 cap on monthly insulin expenses.

The spending is mostly offset with taxes on the wealthy and corporations, including:

a 5% surtax on taxpayers with personal income above $10 million, and an additional 3% added on income above $25 million; a 15% minimum tax on corporate profits of large corporations that report more than $1 billion in profits; a 1% tax on stock buybacks; a 50% minimum tax on foreign profits of U.S. corporations.

House Democrats unite after months of fighting

Moderate Democrats ultimately voted for the legislation after concerns that estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would show the measure to be more costly than leaders have projected.

Ultimately, the CBO found the bill would cost the federal government $367 billion over the next decade, “not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement.” Many Democrats, including the White House, argue that when that is taken into account, the measure would pay for itself.

Members of the fiscally moderate New Democrat Coalition endorsed the legislation ahead of the final cost estimates. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said the official estimates don’t take into account extra revenue from increased tax enforcement — or the broader economic benefits of the legislation.

“When discussing the importance of the bill, we also have to talk about the costs that would be incurred if we don’t pass this bill,” Schneider said on a call with reporters. “The cost of inaction is simply too high, and it can only be headed off if we act now.”

For progressive Democrats, the vote fulfills a promise from Biden and House leaders not to neglect policies that have energized the left wing of their party. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus set aside major demands throughout the negotiations, including more spending and plans for aggressive changes to the nation’s health care system, in order to reach an agreement that satisfied the full caucus.

Senate hurdles could drag on for weeks

The House vote is just the latest step in a lengthy process that will almost certainly involve further changes to the bill. Centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have each expressed concerns about the House version of the legislation. Manchin is particularly opposed to a provision that would provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave for most workers. Sinema’s objections are less clear but Democrats need both lawmakers on board in order for the legislation to pass.

It is unclear how long it would take for senators to work out their disagreements and finalize the legislation. Once that work is done, the Senate would have to start a lengthy process to vote on the bill using the budget reconciliation process that would allow the bill to be passed in the Senate with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.

Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that Senate staff have already completed a necessary step to ensure the legislation meets the basic requirements to avoid a Republican filibuster. But the process still has several steps, including a series of unlimited amendment votes known as a vote-a-rama.

Historic Immigration Reform Included In House-Passed Spending Bill

The social spending bill approved by the House Friday in a 220-213 vote includes the most extensive immigration reform package reviewed by Congress in 35 years, albeit in a much reduced version from what proponents originally sought.

If the provision is approved by the Senate as-is, the immigration measure in the bill would allow undocumented people present in the U.S. since before 2011 up to 10 years of work authorization, falling short of an initial goal to offer them a pathway to citizenship.

The provision approved by the House offers a sort of waiver to immigration laws, using a process known as parole to allow people to stay in the country for five years with the option to extend for another five years thereafter.

About 6.5 million people would stand to benefit from the measure directly, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

According to that analysis, about 3 million of those people would become eligible to springboard from the parole status to legal permanent residency, the first step toward citizenship.

“CHC remains focused on passing immigration reform.

The Build Back Better Act includes long-term work permits and protections for seven million hardworking immigrant essential workers that will help prevent family separation, stabilize our workforce, boost our economy, and create jobs,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chair Raúl Ruiz (D-Calif.).

“The CHC urges the Senate to protect the work-permits and protections and we are hopeful they will use the Senate rules to build upon them and create an earned pathway to citizenship to further improve our nation’s economy,” added Ruiz.

Still, the immigration provisions fall short of Democrats’ initial goal of providing a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S.

Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) lamented that the package was ultimately reduced to protections through a decade of work authorization.

“While that is absolutely inadequate, we have to get that across the goal line. We have to. That would provide the ability for so many of these incredible people to be able to get to work every day without fear of retaliation, and to be able to live without fear of deportation. And in fact, for millions of them it would allow them the important step towards stabilizing their situation,” she told reporters Thursday.

“And hopefully at some point, getting them fully protected through a pathway to citizenship. It buys Congress more time, so that we can fulfill our obligation and ensure that we give them the path to citizenship that they deserve.”

The bill also includes visa recapture, preventing the loss of some 222,000 unused family-based visas and 157,000 employment-based visas that otherwise expired at the end of last fiscal year. The move will help retain immigration pathways for those abroad who often wait years to immigrate to the U.S.

The inclusion of immigration provisions has taken a secondary role in the political fight to craft President Biden‘s signature legislative package, as Democrats have publicly quarreled about the top-line pricing of the bill.

The immigration provisions, while a relatively small line item within the larger bill, are expected to raise deficits by around $111 billion over the next decade, according to the CBO analysis.

While the immigration debate was a minor issue through negotiations for the Build Back Better bill, as the spending proposal is known, it pitted Democrats and immigration advocates against each other behind closed doors.

Advocates often called out Democrats for showing a lack of interest in an issue that’s personal for millions of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the country.

At the center of that friction was the debate over whether Democrats should push for a path to citizenship in the bill, or settle for parole — only a temporary respite from immigration enforcement for millions of immigrants.

Three House Democrats, Reps. Jesús García (Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.) and Lou Correa (Calif.) became known as “the three amigos” for their threat to withhold their votes for the final bill unless immigration provisions were included.

The three later campaigned to include permanent residency rather than parole in the bill, but those efforts faltered as the CHC failed to coalesce behind their cause.

“This is a good first step forward that allows our constituents to breathe. This historic legislation includes work authorizations and protection from deportation for more than 7 million individuals,” said the three lawmakers in a joint statement after the bill’s passage.

“Make no mistake, while this is the most transformational policy our communities have seen in over three decades, much work remains in our efforts to ensure a pathway to citizenship,” they added.

The core issue that protracted itself over weeks — and remains unresolved — was the Senate parliamentarian’s advisory opinion on what could and could not be included in a reconciliation bill, which is limited to budgetary line items.

The House-passed bill will now go to the Senate under reconciliation rules in an effort to sidestep a Republican filibuster and pass the package with only Democratic support.

The parliamentarian, an unelected official who provides counsel on Senate rules, advised the first two Democratic immigration proposals were incompatible with reconciliation, warning they went beyond a budgetary impact and represented a substantial change in policy.

Those two proposals would have granted the possibility of legal permanent residency, also known as green cards, to millions of foreign nationals, including undocumented immigrants.

The first proposal was innovative in that it made green cards available to specific groups of undocumented immigrants and other foreign nationals, in this case so-called Dreamers, beneficiaries of the temporary protected status program, essential workers and agricultural workers.

The second proposal nixed by the parliamentarian revived a provision of immigration law that’s been dormant since the Reagan administration, which allows Congress to change the registry date prohibiting certain immigrants from adjusting their status, essentially enacting a statute of limitations for long-tenured immigrants.

The parliamentarian’s ruling against that proposal stunned the five Senate Democrats who led the way on immigration — Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) and Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) — because of the registry proposal’s historical precedent.

A third proposal — the parole option included in the House bill — has yet to be presented to the parliamentarian.

Menéndez on Friday celebrated House passage of the bill, saing “it provides long-overdue legal protections for millions of undocumented immigrants that kept the country afloat during the pandemic.”

“Now, the Senate will continue to fight for the broadest immigration relief possible. We cannot fully build back better without protecting the dignity of millions of people who are critical to our long-term economic recovery. This is their home, and it is time for the Senate to help them fulfill their American dream,” added Menéndez.

Grassroots groups and García, Espaillat and Correa explicitly called for the House to send the registry proposal to the Senate, giving the five Senate Democrats a stronger negotiating position, but that view was overruled by Democratic leaders and advocacy groups closer to party politics.

“We should be trying to do the most we can, push the most we can — we shouldn’t be negotiating against ourselves,” Correa previously told The Hill.  While the House version’s loophole could quell some of the tensions between Democrats and grassroots immigration advocates, a reversal from the parliamentarian could quickly reignite those flames.

What Does Current Inflation Tell Us About The Future?

What signal should we be taking from current inflation for future inflation? The answer: some signal, but not a lot. To be sure, inflation is running high (figure 1); and, after excluding the typically volatile categories of food and energy prices, is running higher than it has been in decades. But because the factors that are leading to inflation are pandemic-related and therefore temporary, the current trend does not forecast the future.

To examine whether this short-term run up in inflation points to higher inflation in the years ahead, I look at the factors that appear to be contributing. I find that the strength and composition of consumer demand for goods since the pandemic began as well as supply constraints caused by the pandemic are the sources of the current spike. The clearly temporary nature of those factors suggests we should not extrapolate recent inflation pressure into the future.

Key Points:

Goods inflation has indeed been extraordinarily high.

The identifiable factors behind goods inflation—a surge in consumer demand and lagging supply—are primarily pandemic-related.

Increasing vaccination rates and decreasing the health risks should rebalance spending patterns, leading to a decrease in demand for goods and an increase in demand for services.

If increases in the supply of services lags behind increases in demand for services, we would see new and worrying inflation risks arise.

Inflation as of October 2021

Figure 1 shows inflation from 1969 to 2021, both by the consumer price index (CPI) and by the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator. Some observers have tried to draw parallels between the current episode in inflation and the 1970s; this is incorrect.

While inflation has increased relative to recent years, inflation is significantly below the levels seen in the 1970s.

As measured by the CPI, the annual rate of inflation from October 2020 to October 2021 was 6.2 percent. As measured by the PCE deflator, the annual rate of inflation from September 2020 to September 2021 (the most recent available data) was 4.4 percent. Some of those price increases reflect a bounce back from the unusually low level of prices in the first part of the pandemic. For example, if the CPI had grown at a rate close to the Federal Reserve’s target from the first month of the pandemic through October 2020, the CPI annual inflation rate over the last year would have been 5.1 percent. That rate is still quite high, but a percentage point lower than the actual annual rate.

Which goods and services have driven the recent run-up in inflation? Figure 2 shows that the answer is core commodities, or goods. As figure 2a shows, core goods inflation has been strikingly high in recent months. In contrast, inflation in core services (2b) has been far more muted and has generally recovered to pre-pandemic rates.

Figures 2c and 2d show that inflation in energy and in food, which are excluded from core inflation, are both elevated. Energy inflation is quite volatile; domestic energy producers faced very low prices early in the pandemic, and those producers may be waiting to see if price increases are durable before increasing supply. Food inflation is worrying and appears to be a global trend related to the pandemic among other factors. The same trends are evident looking at PCE inflation (not shown).

Figure 3 shows just how unusual core goods inflation has been: it is higher than it’s been over the last 30 years. Since 2000, core goods inflation has been negative roughly half the time, meaning that the price of goods (on a quality-adjusted basis) falls on average. Given this recent history, the skyrocketing goods prices seen during the pandemic are all the more extraordinary. In contrast, core services inflation has been close to its average from the early 1990s to 2008 (when the significant decline in house prices dampened shelter costs).

Inflation in Economic Recoveries

As I have shown, the primary contributor to the recent spike in inflation is core goods. The strength in real consumer spending (shown in figure 4a) has reflected a surge in spending on consumer goods (shown in figure 4b). Real goods spending is currently about 15 percent higher than it was pre-pandemic, and there were a couple of months when it was 20 percent higher.

Are the trends described above a signal that we should expect continued extraordinary inflation for core goods—everything from automobiles to exercise mats—in the coming years? Three factors suggest no.

First, the surge in spending on goods has put upward pressure on prices as suppliers have been unable to keep up with demand. Suppliers have strong incentives to iron out issues with the supply chain to get more product onto shelves; in addition, the problems with the supply chain that owe more directly to the pandemic will ebb as the pandemic is brought under control globally.

Second, that surge in goods spending is no doubt temporary because households—as the pandemic recedes—will rebalance consumer spending toward services, which has been unusually depressed (figure 4c).

Third, the fiscal support to households that has helped to finance the surge in goods spending has largely waned.

In contrast to spending on consumer goods, spending on services remains below its pre-pandemic peak. This pattern is a significant departure from previous business cycles where services were relatively unaffected.

Inflation Risks on the Horizon

Although the recent surge in consumer goods inflation does not suggest persistent inflation in this sector going forward, two other issues present risk to the inflation outlook: labor supply and demand in the services sector as well as the recent increases in housing prices.

As consumer spending rebalances towards services, demand for labor in the services sector will rise beyond already-elevated levels. For example, in September, job openings in leisure and hospitality were a remarkable 530,000 higher than trend but employment was 1.5 million below its pre-pandemic level. If consumer demand for leisure and hospitality services return to (or temporarily exceeds) pre-pandemic levels, demand for labor will likely increase significantly.

Softness in labor force participation rates and a frustratingly slow pace of matching job seekers with jobs has raised concerns about weakness in the supply of labor. To be sure, the pace of job matching is probably slowed by the sheer number of job openings and opportunities across multiple industries that candidates have to consider. In addition, because of pandemic-related issues, some people are constrained from working or worried about the health risks of working. My expectation is that those issues will resolve.

However, continued weakness in labor supply may suggest that the experience of the pandemic and the changing nature of work since March 2020 could persistently dampen how much labor people are willing to supply. If labor supply continues to be restrained, this will affect the ability of the U.S. economy to produce goods and services.

That would increase inflationary pressures for a given level of aggregate demand, which is a problem. But, in that circumstance the more significant problem to address would be that our standard of living would be lower.

The other factor that is creating some inflationary risks on the horizon is house price growth and how that is going to spill over into the rental market. Historically, there is a strong relationship between house price growth and inflation in the rental market (figure 5). After rents grew at roughly a 3¾ percent annual pace before the pandemic, this inflation rate was at a remarkably low level of less than 2 percent in the first half of this year.

Rent inflation is now rising to more typical levels; rents grew 2¾ percent between October 2020 and October 2021 and that rate looks poised to increase. While deserving of notice, worrying inflation in this sector would be more of the plain vanilla-type that less accommodative monetary policy would be well-equipped to dampen.

Conclusion

The biggest risk to inflation going forward is not a continuation of the forces currently at work in the goods sector: this will not be persistent. Instead, the biggest risk is that large increases in demand for workers in the services sector will not be met by equally large increases in labor supply.

Policymakers can encourage labor supply by continuing to get the pandemic under control through vaccinations and sensible health policies. Moreover, policymakers can also remove barriers that make work costly, such as lack of access to affordable, high-quality childcare. Policymakers can facilitate the matching of job seekers with jobs through job fairs and better access to labor market information. Finally, immigrants are a critical source of workers in the U.S., and rates of immigration are significantly down relative to pre-pandemic projections.

A return to more typical levels of, for example, green card issuance would help to expand labor supply in the U.S. to meet the growing demand for labor. In short, the policies that will rein in inflation in the future are the same policies that support a sustained and equitable labor market recovery.

World Bank Reports, India Received Largest Remittances In 2021

The recently launched report by World Bank noted that India received $87 billion in remittances in 2021, and the United States was the biggest source, accounting for over 20% of these funds.

On Wednesday, November 17, the World Bank report stated, “Flows to India (the world’s largest recipient of remittances) are expected to reach $87 billion, a gain of 4.6% — with the severity of COVID-19 caseloads and deaths during the second quarter (well above the global average) playing a prominent role in drawing altruistic flows (including for the purchase of oxygen tanks) to the country,”

India is followed by China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt, the report said. In India, remittances are projected to grow 3% in 2022 to $89.6 billion, reflecting a drop in overall migrant stock, as a large proportion of returnees from the Arab countries await return, it said.

Remittances to low- and middle-income countries are projected to have grown a strong 7.3% to reach $589 billion in 2021, the Bank said.

This return to growth is more robust than earlier estimates and follows the resilience of flows in 2020 when remittances declined by only 1.7% despite a severe global recession due to COVID-19, according to estimates from the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief.

“Remittance flows from migrants have greatly complemented government cash transfer programs to support families suffering economic hardships during the COVID-19 crisis. Facilitating the flow of remittances to provide relief to strained household budgets should be a key component of government policies to support a global recovery from the pandemic,” said Michal Rutkowski, World Bank Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs.

USCIS To Allow Automatic Renewal Of Employment Authorization For H-4 Workers

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has settled a lawsuit Nov. 10, which allows the spouses of L-2 workers to automatically receive work authorization, and also provides an automatic 180-day extension of work authorization for some spouses of H-1B workers.

“Once implemented by the agency, L-2 spouses will no longer have to apply for work authorization and need an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) as proof in order to work in the United States,” said Jesse Bless, director of litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in an interview with Forbes magazine. This means L-2 spouses could immediately work upon entering the U.S.

“For H-4 spouses who have lawful status and merely need to renew their employment authorization, they will now enjoy an automatic extension of their authorization for 180 days after expiration should the agency fail to process their timely-filed applications,” said Bless.

Concerns have arisen that the extension of EAD is only valid as long as the H-4 status is valid. The law firm Puyang and Wu noted on Twitter: “In most cases, filing the H-4 extension and H-4 EAD renewal concurrently does not grant you the automatic extension. The H-4 extension would have to be approved first before you may benefit from the full 180-day auto extension.”

The lawsuit, Shergill vs. Mayorkas — Alejandro Mayorkas heads up the Department of Homeland Security — was initiated by the law firm Wasden Banias, which represented 15 plaintiffs in the class action case, filed with the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The lawsuit arose in response to lengthy delays by USCIS in processing H-4 Employment Authorization Document applications.

“After years of outreach to the agency, it became clear that litigation was unfortunately necessary,” said attorney Jon Wasden in a press statement. “Despite the plain statutory language, USCIS failed to grant employment authorization incident to status for L-2s.”

“The other issue relates to H-4s whose work permits expire prior to their H-4 status; this is a group that always met the regulatory test for automatic extension of EADs, but the agency previously prohibited them from that benefit and forced them to wait for re-authorization. People were suffering. They were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason causing harm to them and U.S. businesses. So, while I’m glad the agency finally followed the law, it is frankly frustrating that an easily fixable issue took this long to address,” he stated.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that USCIS unlawfully withholds employment authorization to spouses of L-2 workers, and unlawfully withholds automatic extensions of L-2 employment authorization.

They further alleged that USCIS unlawfully withholds automatic extensions of employment authorization for H-4 workers, who are overwhelmingly women from India, many with degrees and qualifications equal to or exceeding those of their H-1B spouses.

About 100,000 immigrants currently hold H-4 EADs. A great amount of controversy has arisen over the authorization, especially during the Trump administration, which tried to end the program created by former President Barack Obama via executive order. In a long-simmering lawsuit, SaveJobs USA contends that allowing H-4 women to work in the U.S. means American workers have to compete with foreign workers for jobs, and that overall salaries are reduced as a result.

H-4 visa holders are allowed to get work authorization after their spouse has filed for permanent status, usually within six years. Current policies often force workers with H-4 EAD to lose their jobs as they wait for USCIS to adjudicate their renewal application, which could take up to two years.

Immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta noted the limitations of the settlement. “USCIS needs to be sued again. H-4s who file EAD renewals concurrently with an I-539 extension may receive only a brief auto-extension, just to the end of their current I-94 date, but most existing EADs end with the current I-94 date,” he tweeted.

“The H-1B spouse will have to premium the H-1B extension, and upon approval, the H-4 will need to leave and be readmitted in H-4 status coterminous with new H-1B validity. Highly impractical as visa stamping appointments are not being issued quickly in India,” wrote Mehta.

H-1B workers and their spouses could also apply for the H-1B/H-4 extension six months in advance via premium processing and if H-4 status is granted, file the EAD renewal and get a 180-day auto extension, noted the attorney, cautioning however: “Not sure whether USCIS is competent enough to approve H-4 status within 6 months though. So this too is highly impractical.”

Wasden Banias Law also addressed those who were unhappy with the settlement in a statement on Twitter. “For the H-4s disappointed/angry at the scope of the Shergill policy, three quick points: (1) we have an all-encompassing H-4 delay suit pending; (2) we don’t control the headlines of news articles; and (3) a small step forward is still a step forward.”

Several Indian publications have reported that this is a major step forward for H-4 EAD.

Rajeshwar Prasad Presented Life Time Achievement Award At NIAASC Annual Meeting In New York

Rajeshwar Prasad, founder and chairman of  The National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens (NIAASC) was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, During the 32nd annual Conference and 23rd Annual meeting of NIAASC on Sunday, November 7th, 2021 at the India Home in Jamaica, New York. He was recognized for his 23 years of admirable and outstanding community outlook and service, creating and nurturing NIAASC and dedicated to all seniors across the USA.

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, who is the founder of India Home nonprofit organization and a current board member of NIAASC hosted the conference, which  was informative and entertaining with vegan breakfast and lunch served.  Dr. Bhavani Srinivasan, Vice president – NIAASC was the coordinator of the conference and coordinated the event effectively and flawlessly.

The conference started with opening remarks and greetings by NIAASC Chairman and founder Rajeshwar Prasad. in his speech, Prasad reflected on the growth of the organization since its inception in 1998. He stated “NIAASC helps Senior Citizens and Senior Associations through information, referral and advocacy services “. Following the Chairman’s speech, Mrs. Gunjan Rastogi, the current president of NIAASC welcomed ­­the attendees and echoed the chairman’s message and reaffirmed and reminded everyone that NIAASC is a unique nonprofit organization that provides resources for all the seniors while collaborating with other nonprofit organizations and this was well received and acknowledged.

The main speaker was Dr. Vikas Malik, a board-certified medical professional in both Child-Adolescent Psychiatry and Adult Psychiatry and his PowerPoint presentation on Mental Health in light of COVID-19 captivated the audience of roughly 70 physical attendees and 30 virtual attendees, who appreciated the information and knowledge that was succinctly explained.  His presentation was followed by Dr. Swaminathan Giridharan, a Geriatric specialist, who spoke about COVID-19 Vaccination.  The conference also focused on physical health and a presentation by   Mrs. Suman Munjal, president of World Vegan Vision, who discussed the health benefits pertaining to a vegan diet.

The occasion marked NIAASC honoring Mr. Mukund Mehta, President of Indo-American Senior citizen center, a nonprofit organization and the President of India Home. In introducing Mr. Mukund Mehta, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi informed the audience about his active involvement as a director with the Federation of Indian American Seniors Associations of North America (FISANA).

NIAASC’s goal of collaboration with other organizations was evident as the conference was well attended by members of the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA). Members included current executive board members and past presidents who made the effort to connect via zoom. NFIA attendees belonged to different states/different time zones and remained present throughout the duration of the program. Also in attendance were members from several other organizations such as World Vegan Vision (WVV) and India Association of Long Island (IALI). Many IALI members attended In-person and on Zoom, including nine past presidents. Other NIAASC Board members that joined via zoom were: Satpal and Satya Malhotra(New York), Baldev Seekri ( Florida), Chandrakant Shah (Florida), Santosh Kumar (Chicago), Asha Samant (New Jersey ) and Jyotsna Kalavar (Indiana).

Lunch was followed by Diwali cultural program that was presented by Ms. Jyoti Gupta and her team consisted of several singers, Dr.Jag Kalra, Kul Bhooshan Sharma, Gautam Chopra and Raj Dhingra. The group entertained and regaled the audience with lively Bollywood songs. Music program was followed by Diwali Felicitation by Nilima Madan.

In her closing remarks, Gunjan Rastogi thanked the sponsors that supported the entire event financially and also thanked the India Home volunteers who had helped set up the venue while precluding any hiccups.

The vote of thanks was given by Mr. Harbachan Singh, NIAASC Secretary who appreciated the presence of large number of audiences, sponsors, and well-wishers.

Upon adjournment of the conference, the 23rd general body meeting was conducted by NIAASC president, Gunjan Rastogi, who requested Mr. Rajeshwar Prasad to present the report of nominating committee, since the chairman of the nominating committee Chandrakant Shah, was not able to the report due to some technical issue. Rajeshwar Prasad informed the members that as per NIAASC constitution and bylaws; 1/3rd members retire every year, but based on eligibility criteria, members are eligible to be re-elected for another term of three years that resulted in all the retiring members Gunjan Rastogi, Bhavani Srinivasan, E.M. Stephen, Santosh Kumar, and Rajeshwar Prasad to be elected for three additional years and was approved by the General Body.        For additional information about NIAASC, please email the president at [email protected]

Inflation Explained: Why Prices Keep Going Up And Who’s To Blame?

Confused about inflation? You’re not alone. Inflation is, paradoxically, both incredibly simple to understand and absurdly complicated.  Let’s start with the simplest version: Inflation happens when prices broadly go up.

That “broadly” is important: At any given time, the price of goods will fluctuate based on shifting tastes. Someone makes a viral TikTok about brussels sprouts and suddenly everyone’s gotta have them; sprouts prices go up. Meanwhile sellers of cauliflower, last season’s trendy veg, are practically giving their goods away. Those fluctuations are constant.

Inflation is when the average price of virtually everything consumers buy goes up. Food, houses, cars, clothes, toys, etc. To afford those necessities, wages have to rise too.

It’s not a bad thing. In the United States, for the past 40 years or so (and particularly this century), we’ve been living in an ideal low-and-slow level of inflation that comes with a well-oiled consumer-driven economy, with prices going up around 2% a year, if that. Sure, prices on some things, like housing and health care, are much higher than they used to be, but other things, like computers and TVs, have become much cheaper — the average of all the things combined has been relatively stable.

Still with me?

All right, let’s cut to today, and why inflation is all over the news.

When ‘inflation’ is a bad word

Inflation becomes problematic when that low-and-slow simmer gets fired up to a boil. That’s when you hear economists talk about the economy “overheating.” For a variety of reasons, largely stemming from the pandemic, the global economy finds itself at a rigorous boil right now.

In the United States, prices have climbed 6.2% — the biggest increase since November 1990, and well above the Federal Reserve’s long-term inflation goal of around 2%.

And here’s where Econ 101 merges a bit with Psych 101. There’s a behavioral economics aspect to inflation where it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When prices go up for a long enough period of time, consumers start to anticipate the price increases. You’ll buy more goods today if you think they’ll cost appreciably more tomorrow. That has the effect of increasing demand, which causes prices to rise even more. And so on. And so on.

That’s where it can get especially tricky for the Federal Reserve, whose main job is to control money supply and keep inflation in check.

How’d we get here? Blame the pandemic.

In the spring of 2020, as Covid-19 spread, it was like pulling the plug on the global economy. Factories around the world shut down; people stopped going out to restaurants; airlines grounded flights. Millions of people were laid off as business disappeared practically overnight. The unemployment rate in America shot up to nearly 15% from about 3.5% in February 2020.

It was the sharpest economic contraction on record.

By early summer, however, demand for consumer goods started to pick back up. Rapidly. Congress and President Joe Biden passed a historic $1.9 trillion stimulus bill in March that made Americans suddenly flush with cash and unemployment assistance. People started shopping again. Demand went from zero to 100, but supply couldn’t bounce back so easily.

When you pull the plug on the global economy, you can’t just plug it back in and expect it start humming at the same pace as before.

Take cars, for example. Automakers saw the Covid crisis beginning and did what any smart business would do — shut down temporarily and try to mitigate losses. But not long after the pandemic shut factories down, it also drove up demand for cars as people worried about exposure on public transit and avoided flying. Automakers had whiplash.

Cars require an immense number of parts, from an immense number of different factories around the world, to be built by highly skilled laborers in other parts of the world. Getting all of those discreet operations back online takes time, and doing so while keeping workers from getting sick takes even more time.

Economists often describe inflation as too much money chasing too few goods. That’s exactly what happened with cars. And houses. And Peloton bikes. And any number of other items that became hot ticket items.

How’s the supply chain involved in all this?

“Supply chain bottlenecks” — that’s another one you see all over, right?

Let’s go back to the car example.

We know that high demand + limited supply = prices go up.

But high demand + limited supply + production delays = prices go up even more.

All modern cars rely on a variety of computer chips to function. But those chips are also used in cellphones, appliances, TVs, laptops and dozens of other items that, as bad luck would have it, were all in high demand at the same time.

That’s just one example of the disconnect in the global supply chain. Because new cars have been slow to roll in, used car demand shot through the roof, which drove overall inflation higher. In some cases, car owners were able to sell their used cars for more than what they paid for them a year or two prior.

What happens next?

Prices and wages are likely to keep going up well into 2022, officials and economists say. But for how long and how much depends on countless variables across the globe.

Policymakers’ top priority is to unclog the supply chain bottlenecks to get goods moving at their pre-pandemic pace. That’s a lot easier said than done. And there’s no telling what kind of shocks — a resurgent Covid variant, a massive shipping container getting stuck in a key waterway, a natural disaster — could set back progress.

Economists and investors in the United States expect that the Fed will tighten monetary policy by raising interest rates and dialing back emergency stimulus, thereby slow the pace of inflation. When money becomes more expensive to borrow, that can take the heat off price increases and bring the economy back down to that nice, gentle simmer.

US Announces Big Hike In Medicare Premiums

The federal government announced a large hike in Medicare premiums Friday night, blaming the pandemic but also what it called uncertainty over how much it may have to be forced to pay for a pricey and controversial new Alzheimer’s drug.

The 14.5% increase in Part B premiums will take monthly payments for those in the lowest income bracket from $148.50 a month this year to $170.10 in 2022. Medicare Part B covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, medical equipment, and certain other medical and health services not covered by Medicare Part A, including medications given in doctors’ offices.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services played down the spike, pointing out that most beneficiaries also collect Social Security benefits and will see a cost-of-living adjustment of 5.9% in their 2022 monthly payments, the agency said in a statement. That’s the largest bump in 30 years.

“This significant COLA increase will more than cover the increase in the Medicare Part B monthly premium,” CMS said. “Most people with Medicare will see a significant net increase in Social Security benefits. For example, a retired worker who currently receives $1,565 per month from Social Security can expect to receive a net increase of $70.40 more per month after the Medicare Part B premium is deducted.”

The increase, however, is far more than the Medicare trustees estimated in their annual report, which was released in late August. They predicted the monthly premium for 2022 would be $158.50. The actual spike — the largest since 2016 — could hurt some seniors financially.

It “will consume the entire annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) of Social Security recipients with the very lowest benefits, of about $365 per month,” said Mary Johnson, a Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group. “Social Security recipients with higher benefits should be able to cover the $21.60 per month increase, but they may not wind up with as much left over as they were counting on.”

Medicare premiums have typically increased at a far faster rate than Social Security’s annual adjustments, the league said. And much of the 2022 increase in Social Security benefits will be eaten up by inflation, which is also rising at a rapid clip.

CMS said part of the increase for 2022 was because of uncertainty over how much the agency will end up paying to treat beneficiaries to be treated with Aduhelm, an Alzheimer’s drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in June over the objections of its advisers. Some experts estimate it will cost $56,000 a year. Medicare is deciding whether to pay for it now on a case-by-case basis.

Because Aduhelm is administered in physicians’ offices, it should be covered under Medicare Part B, not Part D plans, which pay for medications bought at pharmacies. Traditional Medicare enrollees have to pick up 20% of the cost of most Part B medications, which would translate into about $11,500 in out-of-pocket costs for those prescribed Aduhelm.

“The increase in the Part B premium for 2022 is continued evidence that rising drug costs threaten the affordability and sustainability of the Medicare program,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration is working to make drug prices more affordable and equitable for all Americans, and to advance drug pricing reform through competition, innovation, and transparency.”

Also, Congress last year limited the 2021 premium increase even as emergency Medicare spending surged during the coronavirus pandemic. The monthly charge rose less than $4.

Along with the premium spike, the annual deductible for Medicare Part B beneficiaries is rising to $233 in 2022, up from $203 in 2021.

Medicare is the federal health insurance plan covering more than 62 million people, mostly 65 and older.  Part B premiums are based on income. Individuals earning $500,000 or more a year and joint filers making $750,000 or more annually will pay $578.30 a month for coverage in 2022.

China Overtakes U.S. To Grab Top Spot On Global Wealth

Global wealth tripled over the last two decades, with China leading the way and overtaking the U.S. for the top spot worldwide.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new report by the research arm of consultants McKinsey & Co. that examines the national balance sheets of ten countries representing more than 60% of world income.

“We are now wealthier than we have ever been,” Jan Mischke, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute in Zurich, said in an interview.

Net worth worldwide rose to $514 trillion in 2020, from $156 trillion in 2000, according to the study. China accounted for almost one-third of the increase. Its wealth skyrocketed to $120 trillion from a mere $7 trillion in 2000, the year before it joined the World Trade Organization, speeding its economic ascent.

Richest 10%

The U.S., held back by more muted increases in property prices, saw its net worth more than double over the period, to $90 trillion.

In both countries — the world’s biggest economies — more than two-thirds of the wealth is held by the richest 10% of households, and their share has been increasing, the report said.

As computed by McKinsey, 68% of global net worth is stored in real estate. The balance is held in such things as infrastructure, machinery and equipment and, to a much lesser extent, so-called intangibles like intellectual property and patents.

Financial assets are not counted in the global wealth calculations because they are effectively offset by liabilities: A corporate bond held by an individual investor, for instance, represents an I.O.U. by that company.

The steep rise in net worth over the past two decades has outstripped the increase in global gross domestic product and has been fueled by ballooning property prices pumped up by declining interest rates, according to McKinsey. It found that asset prices are almost 50% above their long-run average relative to income. That raises questions about the sustainability of the wealth boom.

“Net worth via price increases above and beyond inflation is questionable in so many ways,” Mischke said. “It comes with all kinds of side effects.”

Surging real-estate values can make home ownership unaffordable for many people and increase the risk of a financial crisis — like the one that hit the U.S. in 2008 after a housing bubble burst. China could potentially run into similar trouble over the debt of property developers like China Evergrande Group.

The ideal resolution would be for the world’s wealth to find its way into more productive investments that expand global GDP, according to the report. The nightmare scenario would be a collapse in asset prices that could erase as much as one-third of global wealth, bringing it more in line with world income.

Spouses Of H-1B Visa Holders Can Now Look Forward To Getting Work Permit Faster

The Biden administration has been making gradual changes in the immigration department to make it easier for foreign professionals to travel to US, unlike the previous administration.

In the past few months, President Biden has been signing off crucial documents that will let IT professionals find working in the US more comfortably.

One of the major issues many H-1B visa holders facing were getting work permit for their spouses in the US.

Several visa holders, especially, Indian American has been urging the Biden admin to take this into consideration.

Now the administration has agreed to provide automatic work authorization permits to the spouses of H-1B visa holders, most of whom are Indian IT professionals.

An H-4 visa is issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the H-1B visa holders. The visa is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status in the US.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

A settlement was reached by the Department of Homeland Security in a class-action lawsuit, which was filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on behalf of immigrant spouses this summer.

“This (H-4 visa holders) is a group that always met the regulatory test for automatic extension of EADs (employment authorization documents), but the agency previously prohibited them from that benefit and forced them to wait for reauthorization. People were suffering. They were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason causing harm to them and US businesses,” Jon Wasden from AILA said.

The litigation successfully achieved the reversal of the USCIS policy that prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from the automatic extension of their employment authorization during the pendency of stand-alone EAD applications.

“Although this is a giant achievement, the parties’ agreement will further result in a massive change in position for the USCIS, which now recognizes that L-2 spouses enjoy automatic work authorization incident to status, meaning these spouses of executive and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorization prior to working in the United States,” AILA said.

“We are delighted to have reached this agreement, which includes relief for H-4 spouses, through our litigation efforts with Wasden Banias and Steven Brown. It is gratifying that the administration saw that settling the litigation for non-immigrant spouses was something that should be done, and done quickly,” said Jesse Bless, AILA director of federal litigation.

The Obama administration had given work authorization to certain categories of spouses of H-1B visa holders. So far, more than 90,000 H-4 visa holders, a significant majority of whom are Indian-American women, have received work authorization.

100 Most Expensive U.S. Zip Codes In 2021: Include Boston’s Back Bay And Weston

BOSTON–PropertyShark released its annual most expensive zip codes of 2021. New England is home to 11 of the priciest U.S. zip codes, including #2 with Boston’s Back Bay. The full list is included towards the end in this article.

Key Takeaways:

  • At nearly $7.5 million, Atherton, Calif.’s 94027 remains #1 most expensive zip code for fifth consecutive year
  • Record $5.5 million median sale price gives Boston’s 02199 #2 spot
  • Top 10 most expensive zip codes in 2021 all surpass $4 million mark — a historic first
  • 33109 in Miami jumps 66% Y-o-Y, becomes #5 priciest in U.S.
  • Nationally, 30 zips feature median sale prices higher than $3 million, more than double the number of areas in 2020
  • Country’s 100 most expensive zip codes located in 10 states, with 70% from California
  • Bay Area claims 47 of nation’s most exclusive zip codes
  • Los Angeles County remains priciest county with 21 entries
  • Once again, San Francisco boasts highest concentration of pricey zip codes, while NYC drops out of top 20
  • Gibson Island’s 97% Y-o-Y price surge claims Maryland’s highest position yet at #23
  • Exclusive Lake Tahoe enclaves rule Nevada real estate, Paradise Valley returns Arizona for 3rdconsecutive year

Ranking the Priciest U.S. Zip Codes by Closed Home Sales

Even as another uniquely challenging year — marked by the efforts of tackling the pandemic and boosting the economy — is coming to an end, the U.S. residential market continues to experience vertical price trends. And, that picture is clearly visible in our 2021 edition of the 100 most expensive zip codes in the U.S. — which, for the first time ever, includes 127 zip codes due to multiple ties.

Compiled by calculating median home sale prices as opposed to listing prices to ensure an accurate picture of market conditions as opposed to selling prices that reflect sellers’ wishes, this year’s edition highlights the ever-increasingly competitive residential markets of economically vital urban centers.

The Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and New York City yet again have a heavy presence, joined by exclusive pockets of affluence scattered across the country, like Arizona’s Paradise Valley, Washington state’s Medina and Connecticut’s Fairfield County. What’s more, 2021’s competitive residential landscape is further evidenced by the country’s 10 most expensive zip codes — all of which surpassed the $4 million threshold, marking a new record.

For the full ranking of 2021’s 100 most expensive zip codes, scroll to the bottom of the page. For an even more detailed picture, explore last year’s rankings.

California Claims Overwhelming Majority of Expensive Zips Yet Again, Alongside New York & 8 Other States

Unsurprisingly, California continued to provide the bulk of the country’s most expensive zip codes: The Golden State originated 70% of all of the zip codes on this list, including six of the top 10 priciest. And, as usual, New York came in second, providing 17 zip codes in our ranking.

Notably, New York logged three fewer than last year — demonstrating California’s more vertical price trends, as well as the pricing slowdown in NYC’s top markets. In fact, while 2020 marked the first time that no NYC zips ranked among the country’s 10 most expensive, 2021 brought another historic first for the East Coast giant: No NYC zip codes ranked among the 20 priciest in the U.S. this year, with the state represented only by the Hamptons at the top of our ranking.

The East Coast made its presence further known with Massachusetts, home to seven of the top 100 zips in the U.S., up from last year’s four. Not only that, but as sales activity improved in Boston’s Back Bay area, Massachusetts claimed the #2 most expensive zip code in the country with 02199’s $5.5 million median sale price, which was only surpassed by California’s Atherton at more than $7 million.

To the south, Connecticut’s presence also improved compared to previous years: For the first time since 2018, it contributed four zips to the country’s priciest, most of which ranked in the bottom half of our list — similar to the three zips provided by New Jersey. Out west, Nevada and Washington added two zips each, with Washington state claiming #10 with Medina’s ever pricey 98039.

Additionally, Arizona, Florida and Maryland each contributed one zip code. Florida claimed the #5 most expensive zip code with Miami Beach’s 33109 — the highest-ranking for the Sunshine State since 2017. Meanwhile, New Hampshire missed the top 100 this year, having secured a presence during the last two years with Rye Beach.

Maryland Claims Sharpest Price Gain at 97%, While NYC’s Upper West Side Contracts 39%

The U.S. residential market’s vertical price trends were evident among the country’s top zip codes as well, with 92 zips registering price gains — including 23 where the median surged by more than 25%. Conversely, only 12 locations among the priciest registered drops in their medians this year – by comparison, 2020 brought median increases to 78 zips and drops to 23 locations.

At the same time, a record 30 zip codes posted median sale prices of $3 million and above — more than double those in 2020 — with the top 10 most expensive zips coming in at $4 million and higher. Moreover, the last zip code to enter our ranking — San Francisco’s 94122 — did so with a 12% year-over-year (Y-o-Y) increase in its median sale price, managing to hold onto its #100 position from last year.

The sharpest price gain was claimed by 21056 in Maryland’s Gibson Island, which nearly doubled its median sale price, surging 97% Y-o-Y to hit $3,195,000. Gibson Island was followed by 89402 in Nevada’s Crystal Bay, which swelled 68% to reach #39 with a $2.5 million median. The third-sharpest gain was claimed by 33109 in Miami Beach, which rose 66% to a $4,475,00 median sale price to become the #5 most expensive zip code in 2021.

The sharpest price contraction was registered in NYC’s Upper West Side, where zip 10069 contracted 39% Y-o-Y to stabilize at $1,663,000. As a result, the Upper West Side zip dropped from last year’s #22 to #93 this year. Notably, this zip code was actually the leader of price growth in 2020, when its median shot up 42% Y-o-Y.

Across the country, the second-sharpest price drop was registered by 94904 in Greenbrae, Calif., which contracted 12% Y-o-Y. It was followed by Bridgehampton, N.Y.’s 11932, down 11% Y-o-Y. Located in the famously pricey Hamptons, 11932’s price contraction meant that this zip — which was the #7 most expensive in 2020 — came in at #31 this year, its lowest position in three years.

Unshakeable Atherton Maintains #1 Spot for 5th Consecutive Year, Boston Grabs #2 with Record $5.5M Median

A record-setting year for the most expensive zip codes in the U.S., the 10 priciest zip codes in the country now sport median sale prices of $4 million and above. All in all, the 10 most expensive zip codes in the U.S. were provided by five states (as opposed to last year’s three): California claimed six of the top 10 and was joined by Massachusetts, Florida and Washington, as well as New York, which was solely represented by the Hamptons.

Reaching a new record median sale price at $7,475,000, Atherton’s 94027 remains the #1 most expensive zip code in the U.S. for the fifth consecutive year — nearly $2 million ahead of the runner-up. Not only that, but the billionaire favorite also saw its median rise 7% Y-o-Y, suggesting that this exclusive enclave may continue to retain its leading position in the future.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Boston’s 02199 was conspicuously absent last year due to depressed sales activity during the onset of the pandemic — despite that it historically features one of the highest median sale prices in the U.S. However, the Prudential Center area of Back Bay returned in 2021 with a $5.5 million median sale price — its highest figure yet. Consequently, Boston’s 02199 became the #2 most expensive zip code nationwide, outpacing even ultra-exclusive Hamptons enclaves.

Similarly, another well-established presence among the priciest zip codes in the country, Sagaponack’s 11962 was this year’s #3 most expensive zip code, dropping from the runner-up slot it held for three consecutive years, despite a 29% Y-o-Y price uptick that raised its median sale price from $3,875,000 to $5 million. It was also the only zip from New York state to rank in the top 10, as NYC lost further pricing ground, failing to rank a single zip among even the top 20.

In Ross, Calif., 94957 retained its previous year’s position at #4 with a $4,583,000 median sale price, the result of a 27% Y-o-Y increase. A favorite of Silicon Valley executives and celebrities, this marked the first time that Ross surpassed the $4 million pricing mark.

Conversely, Miami Beach’s 33109 may have ventured into the $4 million and over category back in 2017, but this exclusive Florida enclave reached new pricing heights in 2021: 33109 on exclusive Fisher Island stabilized at $4,475,000 to become the #5 most expensive zip code after a staggering 66% Y-o-Y price jump.

Bay Area Still the Priciest Metro with 47 of the Top U.S. Zip Codes

As has increasingly been the case in recent years, greater Los Angeles, the vast New York metropolitan area and the Bay Area remained the leading metros for pricey zip codes. In particular, the Bay Area was yet again the uncontested leader, contributing 47 zip codes to our list — including three of the top 10 zips — while the greater Los Angeles was represented by 30 Orange and L.A. County zips.

The New York metro was represented by 22 zip codes, with only six of those from NYC proper and the rest located in the Hamptons, Nassau County and Westchester, as well as Connecticut’s Fairfield County and New Jersey’s Bergen and Monmouth counties.

L.A. County Remains Most Expensive, Santa Clara & San Mateo Form Pricey Zip Supercluster

Clearly, not even the tech dollars of Silicon Valley could unseat Los Angeles County, which again was the hottest county in the country for expensive real estate with 21 of the priciest zips in the U.S. Its most expensive zip was Beverly Hills’ famed 90210, a veteran of our yearly rankings and the #6 nationally with a $4,125,000 median sale price.

Not to be outdone, the Bay Area’s Santa Clara and San Mateo counties contributed 15 and 10 zips, respectively, to our ranking as the second- and third-most expensive counties in the U.S. As a result, they form a nearly contiguous supercluster of ultra-expensive zip codes that cover high-profile tech centers such as Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and Sunnyvale. And, while San Mateo’s top zip was overall leader 94027 in Atherton, Santa Clara’s highest-ranking zip was 94022 in Los Altos, which landed at #9 with a $4,052,000 median sale price.

A special note goes to Santa Barbara County, which increased its presence from just one zip code in 2020 to five in 2021. Its top zip code was 93108 in Santa Barbara’s exclusive enclave of Montecito — home to the likes of Oprah and former royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — which claimed #7 overall with a $4,103,000 median, following a 40% Y-o-Y pricing jump.

San Francisco, Los Angeles & New York City Hold Highest Concentrations of Exclusive Zips

For the fifth year in a row, San Francisco had the highest concentration of expensive zip codes of any city, ranking seven among the top 10. It was followed by Los Angeles and NYC, with six zips each. However, while San Francisco led the way, most of its zip codes were actually in the bottom half of our ranking: Its priciest zip (94123) placed at #46 — down 10 positions compared to 2020, despite a 7% uptick in its median. Covering the iconic Marina District, 94123 featured a $2,307,000 median sale price.

Of L.A.’s six zips that ranked nationally, its top three — 90272, 90077 and 90049 — form an uninterrupted cluster of pricey real estate with medians greater than $2 million. The trio was led by Pacific Palisades’ 90272 at #21 with a $3.25 million median sale price after an 18% Y-o-Y increase. Covering Bel Air, Holmby Hills and areas of Beverly Glenn, 90077 was #42 nationally with a $2.46 million median, while Brentwood’s 90049 grabbed #52 at $2,165,000.

Back in the Empire State, NYC’s presence weakened yet again: While 2020 marked the first time ever that no NYC zip codes were among the country’s 10 most expensive, in 2021, NYC came in below the top 20, too. More precisely, its most expensive zip — 10013 — just missed out, landing at #22 with a $3,212,000 median sale price, followed by 10007 at #25 with a median of $3,125,000.

Next up, Newport Beach had the the third-highest concentration of pricey zips in a city, with five entries, followed by Santa Barbara with four. Specifically, the most expensive Newport Beach zip — Balboa’s 92662 — grabbed #15 with a $3,577,000, while Santa Barbara’s top zip — 93108 in the exclusive community of Montecito — was #7 nationally.

Sagaponack Finishes as #3 Priciest Nationally, NYC Drops Out of Top 20

Usually one of the strongest presences in the 100 most expensive zip codes in the U.S. (second only to California), New York state retained its position in 2021 — although with a weakened presence. Specifically, the state recorded just 17 zip codes, only six of which were in NYC. Historically speaking, the East Coast powerhouse has had a strong presence in the uppermost levels of our ranking, but only two New York state zips were among the 20 most expensive in 2021 — none of which were in New York City proper.

Rather, the Hamptons’ 11962 in Sagaponack was the #3 most expensive zip code in the U.S. And, although its median sale price of $5 million was up 29% Y-o-Y, Boston’s Back Bay pushed it down one position, ending Sagaponack’s three-year reign as runner-up to the priciest zip code in the country.

The next-highest New York zip code was fellow Hamptons zip 11976 in Water Mill, which came in at #13 with a $3,745,000 median sale price, up an impressive 51% Y-o-Y. At the same time, last year’s #7 nationally — 11932 in Bridgehampton— dropped to #31 after an 11% Y-o-Y price contraction suppressed its median to $2,963,000.

Other zip codes outside of NYC included four more Hamptons locations: The pricey North Shore’s 11568 in Old Westbury which climbed to #62 with a $1.95 million median, as well as two Westchester zip codes. The latter included top 100 veteran 10580 in Rye at #72, plus newcomer 10577 in Purchase, which placed 88th with a $1.7 million median sale price.

Of NYC’s famously expensive real estate, only six zip codes ranked nationally in 2021. And, as a historic first, not one of them placed among the country’s 20 most expensive. Overall, NYC’s top two zips were Manhattan’s 10013 and 10007, claiming #22 and #25, respectively.

To be precise, 10013 — which covers parts of TriBeCa, SoHo, Little Italy and Hudson Square — posted a $3,212,000 median sale price, up 7% Y-o-Y, but still reeling from the 19% price crunch it experienced in 2020. Likewise, Downtown Manhattan, TriBeCa and SoHo’s 10007 posted a $3,125,000 median sale price, dropping 14 spots Y-o-Y. They were followed by Battery Park City’s 10282 with its $2,725,000 median at #35.

And, while Brooklyn made waves in 2019 with zip 11231’s break into the top 100, the Red Hook and Carroll Gardens zip code departed the top 100 in 2021 after a two-year stint, outpaced by sharper price gains in dozens of other zip codes nationwide.

At $2M Median, Alpine’s 07620 Leads New Jersey Real Estate for 5th Consecutive Year

While the Mid-Atlantic region was, as expected, dominated by exclusive New York locations, three New Jersey zip codes also represented the region — the highest number New Jersey has ever contributed to our list. Just 15 miles from Midtown Manhattan and with a $2 million median sale price, 07620 in Bergen County’s Alpine was the most expensive New Jersey zip code. Landing at #58 nationally, Alpine’s median was up 38% Y-o-Y, but, nonetheless, fell short of its 2018 pricing high of $2.2 million.

Alpine was joined by two beach communities, with 08750 in Monmouth County’s Sea Girt placing #70 nationally with a $1,892,000 median sale price, and 08202 in Cape May County’s Avalon landing at #92 with a $1.67 million median. Notably, both zip codes ranked among the 100 most expensive zip codes in the country for the first time.

New England Home to 11 of the Priciest U.S. Zip Codes, Including #2 with Boston’s Back Bay

Further north, New England originated 11 of the most expensive zip codes in the country — the highest figure yet for the region — with Massachusetts contributing seven zips and Connecticut adding four. What’s more, New England also provided the #2 most expensive zip code in the U.S. with Boston’s ultra-pricey 02199.

Zip 02199, which covers the Prudential Center area of Back Bay, usually ranks among the country’s most expensive areas, but was conspicuously absent in 2020 due to depressed sales activity. However, in 2021, zip 02199 returned not only to its highest position yet at #2 nationally, but also reached a new pricing record with a $5.5 million median sale price.

Meanwhile, Nantucket’s 02554 was Massachusetts’ next most expensive zip code, with its $2 million median sale price placing it #58 nationally and marking a new median peak for the exclusive island. It was followed by Weston’s 02493 at $1.85 million,as well as Wellesley Hills’ 02481, Waban’s 02468 and Chilmark’s 02535. Boston also ranked a second time with Beacon Hill and Downtown Boston’s zip 02108, which was the 91st most expensive in the U.S. at $1,673,000.

Connecticut was represented by four Fairfield County zip codes that regularly post some of the highest median sale prices in the country: Greenwich’s perennial representative, 06830, reached its highest median sale price yet at $2.05 million — up 36% Y-o-Y. It was joined by another Greenwich zip code, newcomer 06831, which claimed the #94 spot with a $1,653,000 median.

Notably, last year’s most expensive New England zip — Riverside, Conn.’s 06878 — was only the 4th priciest in the region this year, despite reaching a new median sale price high at $1.98 million. Finally, Connecticut’s contributions were rounded out by 06870 in Old Greenwich, which returned to national rankings after last year’s absence with a $1,807,000 median in 2021 — its highest pricing point yet.

Miami Beach Returns to Top 10 Nationally, Maryland’s Gibson Island Hits Historic $3M Mark

Down south, Florida’s perennially pricey 33109 zip in Miami Beach’s Fisher Island was on the upswing compared to last year, climbing all the way from #23 to #5 nationally. And, although it wasn’t the highest position yet for the popular celebrity location (having been the #3 most expensive in the U.S. in 2017), the exclusive 33109 zip nevertheless reached a new pricing peak in 2021 with its $4,475,000 median. That came as the result of a 66% Y-o-Y price surge — the third-sharpest increase among the country’s 100 leading zip codes.

In Maryland, Gibson Island’s 21056 was among the most expensive zip codes in the U.S. yet again and marked the sixth consecutive year that it has led the state in terms of pricing. However, while 21056 usually ranked in the bottom half of our list (even ranking at #100 in 2019), the Chesapeake Bay community reached its highest position yet this year, placing #23 nationally. That was the result of a whopping 97% Y-o-Y surge — by far the sharpest gain among the country’s top zips. Not only that, but by nearly doubling its median year-over-year, Gibson Island also reached a $3,195,000 median sale price — nearly double its previous record from 2016.

Arizona & Nevada’s Most Expensive Communities Enter Top 50 for 1st Time

Across the country, the Mountain States were again led by three high-income enclaves — Nevada’s Glenbrook and Crystal Bay on the shores of Lake Tahoe, as well as Arizona’s Paradise Valley — marking the first time that all three landed in the upper half of our ranking.

Specifically, 85253 in Arizona’s Paradise Valley claimed #50 after a 41% Y-o-Y price jump raised its median to $2,175,000. A favorite of some of the highest-profile rock stars in the world, the Maricopa County zip finally broke into the country’s most expensive zip codes in 2019, although it had already been the leader of pricey Arizona real estate for years.

Nevada was represented by two zip codes — 89413 and 89402 — for the third consecutive year, with both Lake Tahoe enclaves reaching their highest positions and pricing points to date. In particular, Glenbrook’s 89413 placed in the upper third of our ranking, landing at #29 with a record $3 million median sale price, the result of a 38% Y-o-Y price jump.

The Douglas County zip was joined by 89402 in Washoe County’s Crystal Bay at #39 with a record $2.5 million median sale price. Up 56 positions compared to last year, 89402 logged a staggering 68% median sale price surge, the second-sharpest price increase among the country’s top 100 zips.

Exclusive King County Enclaves Lead Pacific Northwest’s Priciest Real Estate

About 1,000 miles further north, the Pacific Northwest was, once again, represented not by Seattle or Portland, but by the high-income enclaves of Medina and Mercer Island in Washington state.

Specifically, Medina’s 98039 reached its highest pricing point with a $4 million median. This was the result of a 24% Y-o-Y increase that helped the tech-billionaire favorite remain among the most exclusive zip codes in the U.S., ranking as the #10 priciest. It’s also worth noting that 2021 marked the sixth consecutive year that Medina’s 98039 was the undisputed leader of expensive real estate in the Pacific Northwest.

And, returning to our list after its 2019 debut, fellow King County zip 98040 landed at #82. Also a favorite of tech executives, high-profile sports figures and media personalities, the Mercer Island zip code posted a $1,795,000 median sale price.

# Zip Code Location County State Median Sale Price 2021
1 94027 Atherton San Mateo County CA $7,475,000
2 2199 Boston Suffolk County MA $5,500,000
3 11962 Sagaponack Suffolk County NY $5,000,000
4 94957 Ross Marin County CA $4,583,000
5 33109 Miami Beach Miami-Dade County FL $4,475,000
6 90210 Beverly Hills Los Angeles County CA $4,125,000
7 93108 Santa Barbara Santa Barbara County CA $4,103,000
8 90402 Santa Monica Los Angeles County CA $4,058,000
9 94022 Los Altos Santa Clara County CA $4,052,000
10 98039 Medina King County WA $4,000,000
11 94024 Los Altos Santa Clara County CA $3,856,000
12 94301 Palo Alto Santa Clara County CA $3,800,000
13 11976 Water Mill Suffolk County NY $3,745,000
14 90742 Huntington Beach Orange County CA $3,625,000
15 92662 Newport Beach Orange County CA $3,577,000
16 94970 Stinson Beach Marin County CA $3,500,000
17 94028 Portola Valley San Mateo County CA $3,400,000
18 92067 Rancho Santa Fe San Diego County CA $3,399,000
19 92657 Newport Beach Orange County CA $3,365,000
20 92661 Newport Beach Orange County CA $3,293,000
21 90265 Malibu Los Angeles County CA $3,250,000
21 90272 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $3,250,000
22 10013 New York New York County NY $3,212,000
23 21056 Gibson Island Anne Arundel County MD $3,195,000
24 95070 Saratoga Santa Clara County CA $3,150,000
25 10007 New York New York County NY $3,125,000
26 94528 Diablo Contra Costa County CA $3,100,000
27 94010 Hillsborough/Burlingame San Mateo County CA $3,075,000
28 94920 Belvedere Tiburon Marin County CA $3,050,000
29 89413 Glenbrook Douglas County NV $3,000,000
30 95030 Los Gatos Santa Clara County CA $2,995,000
31 11932 Bridgehampton Suffolk County NY $2,963,000
32 90266 Manhattan Beach Los Angeles County CA $2,910,000
33 94306 Palo Alto Santa Clara County CA $2,810,000
34 93953 Pebble Beach Monterey County CA $2,750,000
34 11975 Wainscott Suffolk County NY $2,750,000
35 10282 New York New York County NY $2,725,000
36 92625 Corona Del Mar Orange County CA $2,695,000
37 11930 Amagansett Suffolk County NY $2,645,000
38 11959 Quogue Suffolk County NY $2,593,000
39 94025 Menlo Park San Mateo County CA $2,500,000
39 94062 Redwood City San Mateo County CA $2,500,000
39 89402 Crystal Bay Washoe County NV $2,500,000
40 91108 San Marino Los Angeles County CA $2,490,000
41 92651 Laguna Beach Orange County CA $2,475,000
42 90077 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $2,460,000
43 90212 Beverly Hills Los Angeles County CA $2,429,000
44 94507 Alamo Contra Costa County CA $2,400,000
45 95014 Cupertino Santa Clara County CA $2,310,000
46 94123 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $2,307,000
47 93921 Carmel By The Sea Monterey County CA $2,300,000
48 93067 Summerland Santa Barbara County CA $2,190,000
49 94087 Sunnyvale Santa Clara County CA $2,180,000
50 85253 Paradise Valley Maricopa County AZ $2,175,000
51 10001 New York New York County NY $2,171,000
52 90049 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $2,165,000
53 90274 Rolling Hills Los Angeles County CA $2,118,000
54 92660 Newport Beach Orange County CA $2,111,000
55 94040 Mountain View Santa Clara County CA $2,100,000
55 93920 Big Sur Monterey County CA $2,100,000
56 94070 San Carlos San Mateo County CA $2,055,000
57 6830 Greenwich Fairfield County CT $2,050,000
58 2554 Nantucket Nantucket County MA $2,000,000
58 94127 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $2,000,000
58 7620 Alpine Bergen County NJ $2,000,000
58 91008 Bradbury Los Angeles County CA $2,000,000
59 90048 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $1,985,000
59 94041 Mountain View Santa Clara County CA $1,985,000
59 91436 Encino Los Angeles County CA $1,985,000
60 90254 Hermosa Beach Los Angeles County CA $1,980,000
60 6878 Riverside Fairfield County CT $1,980,000
61 94402 San Mateo San Mateo County CA $1,968,000
62 11568 Old Westbury Nassau County NY $1,950,000
62 94002 Belmont San Mateo County CA $1,950,000
63 92118 Coronado San Diego County CA $1,940,000
64 10012 New York New York County NY $1,935,000
65 91302 Calabasas Los Angeles County CA $1,925,000
66 94705 Berkeley Alameda County CA $1,913,000
67 95032 Los Gatos Santa Clara County CA $1,911,000
68 90291 Venice Los Angeles County CA $1,907,000
69 95129 San Jose Santa Clara County CA $1,900,000
69 94563 Orinda Contra Costa County CA $1,900,000
69 91011 La Canada Flintridge Los Angeles County CA $1,900,000
69 90036 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $1,900,000
69 11963 Sag Harbor Suffolk County NY $1,900,000
70 8750 Sea Girt Monmouth County NJ $1,892,000
71 94118 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $1,868,000
72 10580 Rye Westchester County NY $1,861,000
73 94506 Danville Contra Costa County CA $1,860,000
73 94939 Larkspur Marin County CA $1,860,000
74 90211 Beverly Hills Los Angeles County CA $1,850,000
74 95120 San Jose Santa Clara County CA $1,850,000
74 2493 Weston Middlesex County MA $1,850,000
74 92014 Del Mar San Diego County CA $1,850,000
75 94904 Greenbrae Marin County CA $1,849,000
76 92663 Newport Beach Orange County CA $1,845,000
77 94030 Millbrae San Mateo County CA $1,840,000
78 94114 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $1,830,000
79 90232 Culver City Los Angeles County CA $1,819,000
80 6870 Old Greenwich Fairfield County CT $1,807,000

 

81 93109 Santa Barbara Santa Barbara County CA $1,805,000
82 98040 Mercer Island King County WA $1,795,000
83 94549 Lafayette Contra Costa County CA $1,775,000
84 94061 Redwood City San Mateo County CA $1,773,000
85 94941 Mill Valley Marin County CA $1,758,000
86 2481 Wellesley Hills Norfolk County MA $1,756,000
87 94121 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $1,701,000
88 95130 San Jose Santa Clara County CA $1,700,000
88 10577 Purchase Westchester County NY $1,700,000
89 2468 Waban Middlesex County MA $1,695,000
90 93103 Santa Barbara Santa Barbara County CA $1,682,000
91 93923 Carmel Monterey County CA $1,665,000
91 2108 Boston Suffolk County MA $1,673,000
92 8202 Avalon Cape May County NJ $1,670,000
93 2535 Chilmark Dukes County MA $1,663,000
93 10069 New York New York County NY $1,663,000
94 6831 Greenwich Fairfield County CT $1,653,000
95 93110 Santa Barbara Santa Barbara County CA $1,650,000
95 94131 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $1,650,000
95 94574 Saint Helena Napa County CA $1,650,000
95 92861 Villa Park Orange County CA $1,650,000
95 94707 Berkeley Alameda County CA $1,650,000
96 11030 Manhasset Nassau County NY $1,647,000
97 94960 San Anselmo Marin County CA $1,645,000
98 90027 Los Angeles Los Angeles County CA $1,640,000
99 94303 Palo Alto Santa Clara County CA $1,633,000
100 94122 San Francisco San Francisco County CA $1,627,000

Make sure to explore 2020’s rankings as well.

Methodology

To determine the most expensive zip codes in the U.S., we looked at residential transactions closed between January 1, 2021, and October 22, 2021, taking into account condos, co-ops, and single- and two-family homes. All package deals were excluded.

For an accurate representation, we considered only zip codes that registered a minimum of three residential transactions. Due to a number of ties, 127 zips made it onto our list of the 100 most expensive zip codes in 2021.

2020 and 2021 median sale prices were rounded to the nearest $1,000.

The Bay Area was defined as Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Sonoma and Solano counties; the Los Angeles metropolitan area was defined as Los Angeles County and Orange County; and the 23-county New York metropolitan area was defined as New York City, Long Island, the Mid- and Lower Hudson Valley, Central and Northern New Jersey, Western Connecticut and Pike County, Penn

$1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Passed By Congress Welcomed By Industrial Leaders

Corporations and business groups are calling on President Biden to sign the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law quickly after it finally cleared Congress late Friday, November 5th, after several months of painstaking negations.

The infrastructure bill passed the House 228-206 on Friday. Thirteen Republicans voted for the bill, while six progressive Democrats voted against it, arguing that Democratic leaders didn’t do enough to ensure that the party’s moderates would support the larger reconciliation package. The infrastructure legislation had cleared the Senate in August, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in support.

The business community has rallied behind the infrastructure package, which makes huge investments in roads, bridges, broadband internet, drinking water, rail and public transit without raising taxes on corporations. Business groups say that Biden should sign the bill as soon as possible so transportation officials can get started on construction projects.

According to reports, nearly every major business group in Washington, D.C., backed the infrastructure bill while opposing the reconciliation package, which will implement a minimum tax on corporate profits.The Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs at some of the nation’s largest companies, urged Biden to “swiftly sign” the infrastructure bill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest American corporate lobbying group, called the bill’s passage “a major win for America.”

Ford Motor Co., which will benefit from the bill’s investment in electric vehicle charging stations, lauded the House vote as “great news for the United States’ infrastructure and transition to a zero emissions transportation future” and said it looked forward to Biden’s signature.

“We urge President Biden to quickly sign this bipartisan package into law, so we can build back better with increased jobs, enhanced safety, and improved roads,” Jay Hansen, executive vice president for advocacy at the National Asphalt Pavement Association, said in a statement after the bill passed the House.

The United Steelworkers union welcomed the bill’s passage. “The House has passed the #InfrastructureBill, which would provide roughly $1 trillion for upgrading the nation’s critical infrastructure. This is a big freakin’ deal for us because Steelworkers supply America in so many ways!” the union tweeted.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in the White House State Dining Room about 12 hours after moderate and progressive Democrats in the House of Representative overcame internal bickering and delivered the president his biggest legislative win thus far. WASHINGTON, Nov 6 (Reuters) – A giddy President Joe Biden on Saturday hailed congressional passage of a long-delayed $1 trillion infrastructure bill as a “once in a generation” investment and predicted a broader social safety net plan will be approved despite tense negotiations.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in the White House State Dining Room about 12 hours after moderate and progressive Democrats in the House of Representative overcame internal bickering and delivered the president his biggest legislative win thus far.v”Finally, infrastructure week,” Biden said with a chuckle. “I’m so happy to say that – infrastructure week!”

President Joe Biden on Saturday hailed congressional passage of a long-delayed $1 trillion infrastructure bill as a “once in a generation” investment and predicted a broader social safety net plan will be approved despite tense negotiations.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in the White House State Dining Room about 12 hours after moderate and progressive Democrats in the House of Representative overcame internal bickering and delivered the president his biggest legislative win thus far.

The president’s comment referred to a running joke in recent years after Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump declared “Infrastructure week” in 2018 but was unable to pass a bill after multiple tries during his presidency.

The bipartisan bill’s passage gives Biden a jolt of good news after sobering election losses for his Democratic party this week and a drop in his approval ratings. Referring to the losses, Biden said they showed American people “want us to deliver.” “I think the one message that came across was – ‘get something done. It’s time to get something done – stop talking,'” said Biden

Inflation Expectations Among Consumers Hit New Highs, Fed Survey

Americans’ inflation fears continued to accelerate in October, climbing for the 12th consecutive month in a row to another record high, according to a key Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey published Monday, November 8, 2021.

“Median inflation uncertainty – or the uncertainty expressed regarding future inflation outcomes – increased at both the short- and medium-term horizons. Both measures reached series highs in October,” the survey said.

Heads of households surveyed by the New York Fed expected consumer prices to rise by a median of 5.7 percent over the next year, according to the bank’s October Survey of Consumer Expectations.  The one-year inflation rate projected by consumers rose 0.4 percentage points since September and reached the highest level since the survey began in 2013.

The Fed and economists pay close attention to inflation expectations among consumers, particularly long-term expectations, when assessing the future of price increases. Steady increases in consumer inflation expectations could lead to what economists call a wage-price spiral: higher prices prompting workers to hold out for higher wages, which exacerbates the need to raise prices.

With consumers braced for the highest inflation levels in nearly a decade, they are also expecting the price of things like food, gasoline, rent and college tuition to rise over the next year. The only things that Americans expect to get cheaper over the next year are home prices and medical care.

The report is based on a rotating panel of 1,300 households.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has largely attributed the spike in consumer prices to pandemic-induced disruptions in the supply chain, a shortage of workers that has pushed wages higher and a wave of pent-up consumers flush with stimulus cash.

Although Powell has repeatedly said the rise in inflation is likely “transitory,” he acknowledged last week during the Fed’s two-day policy-setting meeting that the surge may not fade until the latter half of 2022. He maintained that wild swings in consumer prices will stop once current pressures on the supply chain dissipate.

“Our baseline expectation is that supply bottlenecks and shortages will persist well into next year and elevated inflation as well,” Powell told reporters. “And that, as the pandemic subsides, supply chain bottlenecks will abate and job growth will move back up. And as that happens, inflation will decline from today’s elevated levels.”

His comments came after the Federal Open Market Committee voted to begin pulling back on the extraordinary stimulus it has given the economy since March 2020. The U.S. central bank announced that it would reduce its aggressive bond-buying program by $15 billion a month in mid-November, lowering its purchases of long-term Treasury bonds by $10 billion a month and purchases of mortgage-backed securities by $5 billion a month.

Mahatma Gandhi Engraved On UK Coin

A new 5 pound coin to commemorate the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Available in a range of standards, including gold and silver, the special collectors’ coin was designed by Heena Glover and features an image of a lotus, India’s national flower, alongside one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes — “My life is my message”.

Building on the enduring relationship and cultural connections between the UK and India, it is the first time that Gandhi has been commemorated on an official UK coin with the final design chosen by Sunak, who is the Master of the Mint.

“This coin is a fitting tribute to an influential leader who inspired millions of people around the world,” he said.

“As a practicing Hindu, I am proud to unveil this coin during Diwali. Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in the movement for Indian independence and it is fantastic to have a UK coin commemorating his remarkable life for the first time.”

The coin, which goes on sale, is part of the Royal Mint’s wider Diwali collection, which includes 1g and 5g gold bars in henna-style packaging, and the UK’s first gold bar depicting Lakshmi — the Hindu Goddess of wealth.

The 20g gold Lakshmi bar was designed in partnership with the Hindu community in South Wales, where the Royal Mint is based.

The Mint will join the celebrations at the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Cardiff, where worshippers will offer prayers to goddess Lakshmi and lord Ganesha for the coming year.

Chief Customer Officer for The Royal Mint, Nicola Howell, said: “As we approach Diwali celebrations, we are delighted to unveil the first official UK coin commemorating the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. The beautiful design builds on the enduring relationship and cultural connections between the UK and India.”

The announcement comes as India is celebrating its 75th year of Independence this year. Last year, the Chancellor commissioned the new “Diversity Built Britain” 50p coin following discussion with the ‘We Too Built Britain’ campaign, which works for fair representation of minority communities’ contributions across all walks of life.

Around 10 million of the coins, which recognise and celebrate Britain’s diverse history, went into circulation in October 2020.

Politics of Petrol Prices In India

On the eve of Diwali, the Central government had cut excise duty on petrol and diesel prices by Rs 5 and Rs 10, pronouncing this as “Diwali Gift” .This brought relief to customers, who were reeling under inflation and skyrocketing fuel prices. Following this, at least 22 states and UTs cut VAT in different proportions.

The petrol price was cut in the range of Rs 5.7 to Rs 6.35 per litre and diesel rates by Rs 11.16 to Rs 12.88 across the country on November 4. The BJP-ruled states have slashed VAT rates on petrol and diesel by Rs 8 and 9, respectively.

According to Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s largest fuel retailer, in the national capital, petrol is retailing at Rs 103.97 per litre and diesel is available at Rs 86.67 per litre. The rate of petrol stands at Rs 109.98 in Mumbai and diesel costs Rs 94.14 per litre. The prices of petrol and diesel are the highest in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, among all the four metro cities.

In Tamil Nadu’s capital, Chennai, petrol is available at Rs 101.40 per litre and people have to shell out Rs 91.43 for one litre of diesel. Similarly, the prices of petrol and diesel remained unchanged in Kolkata and stood at Rs 104.67 and Rs 89.79 per litre, respectively.

Petrol, diesel prices in major Indian cities

CITY PETROL (PER LITRE) DIESEL (PER LITRE)
DELHI Rs 103.97 Rs 86.67
MUMBAI Rs 109.98 Rs 94.14
CHENNAI Rs 101.40 Rs 91.43
KOLKATA Rs 104.67 Rs 89.79
HYDERABAD Rs 108.20 Rs 94.62
BENGALURU Rs 100.58 Rs 85.01
BHOPAL Rs 107.23 Rs 90.87
CHANDIGARH Rs 94.23 Rs 80.90
BHUBANESWAR Rs 107.91 Rs 94.51

The Mechanism of Fuel Prices

 Fuel prices are revised by OMCs like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum based on international prices in the preceding 15 days and foreign stock exchanges. The prices of petrol and diesel vary from state to state and also in cities, depending on the incidence of local taxes like value-added tax (VAT) and freight charges.

Politics Behind Price Cut

 The Rs 5 cut in the central levy on petrol and Rs 10 on diesel is the highest-ever reduction. This reduction came immediately after Bypoll election losses of BJP and comments from Himanchal Pradesh Chief Minister that inflation (mahangai) was the main reason of dismal performance of BJP in that state. To pacify or rather to fool people, this small reduction in fuel prices was announced as Diwali Gift.

The Central Government had increased fuel taxes twice by Rs 13 and Rs 16 per litre effected between March 2020 and May 2020. The twin hikes in central levies had taken the Centre’s collection on each litre of petrol to their highest level of Rs 32.9 and diesel to Rs 31.8 a litre. So even after reducing levy by Rs.5 per litre on petrol, the Center is collecting Rs27.9 (32.9-5) on petrol and Rs.21.8 on diesel. Clearly, the BJP government is trying to fool the people without giving them real relief.

The second politics is that for the coming five state elections, the BJP government is indirectly pressurizing the opposition ruled states to give up their major source of revenue which is VAT on fuel prices.

This would significantly reduce the budget of states and curtail their ability to spend on welfare measures just before elections. So if the opposition ruled states reduce VAT, they will be in a weaker position to fulfill the welfare demands of their voters. If they don’t reduce VAT, BJP will shift the entire blame of inflation on them. So far, except Odisa, non of the opposition ruled states have reduced their VAT while BJP ruled states immediately reduced their VATS. In the coming election advertisement, BJP will show the price differentials of petrol in BJP ruled states vs non-BJP ruled states. That way BJP expects to get the best of both the worlds in the coming state elections by playing this master stroke politics of small fuel price concessions.

Opposition States Cry Foul

The Centre had lowered not the excise component but the road and infra cess to Rs 13 from Rs 18 on petrol and to Rs 8 from Rs 18 on diesel. Since the Centre has cut cess and not the excise on fuels, there is going to be no change in the revenue share states get from the Centre. They will continue to get 41 per cent of Rs 12.40 per litre among states for unbranded petrol and Rs 9.80 a litre for diesel as per the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel criticised the Centre for making minor tweaks to fuel prices that don’t make an impact. He claimed that the Centre first raised the price of petrol and diesel by up to Rs 30 and then decreased it by Rs 5. Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal confirmed that the state government will soon take a call on the Center’s demand to reduce state levies on fuel. The Kerala government has also spoken up against the Centre’s move on fuel prices.

105 Countries At Climate Summit Pledge To Limit Methane

The  announcement on November 2nd, 2021 by 105 countries, representing two thirds of the global economy, joining a U.S. and E.U.-led coalition to cut up to 40% of methane emissions by 2030 has been the most positive outcome from the ongoing Climate Summit from Glasgow.

Despite the fact that the world’s biggest methane emitters—China, Russia and India, which together contribute 35% of methane emissions—have not signed on, it’s a significant step that could go a long way toward meeting the climate conference’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Global Methane Pledge announced today at COP26 in Glasgow, UK, commits signatories to reducing their overall emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, compared with 2020 levels. The US government also published a detailed blueprint of how it intends to meet the goal.

The new initiative emphasises making cuts by tackling methane leaking from oil and gas wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Significant amounts of the gas also come from other sources, such as livestock farming and decaying waste in landfill sites.

While international climate summits usually focus mostly on carbon dioxide, the dominant driver of the 1.1°C of global warming that has occurred since pre-industrial levels, methane is responsible for about 30 per cent of global warming to date, and atmospheric concentrations of the gas have surged since 2007, sparking concern from scientists.

Methane is the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide and is responsible for more than a quarter of current global warming, says Ilissa Ocko, senior climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “Cutting methane is the fastest, most effective way to slow down warming now.” The pledged reductions alone would slash warming projections by 0.2°C, according to the United Nations Global Methane Assessment.

According to analysts, Methane emission reductions from oil and gas production are the low-hanging fruit of the climate crisis: easy to fix with existing technology, and easy to track. Methane is the principal component of the natural gas used for cooking, heating and energy generation.

Human activity accounts for about 60% of global methane emissions annually, and about a third of that comes from the fossil fuel industry, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2020 Methane Tracker. Unlike carbon dioxide, which is a by-product of fossil fuel combustion, no one wants to actually emit methane, it’s just that up until recently, no one noticed, or cared, if it escaped into the atmosphere.

The Paris Agreement called for holding temperature rise to “well below 2°C,” and the countries gathered in Paris called upon the U.N.’s climate science arm to research the effects of climate change at a 1.5°C limit. The resulting report warned that even that seemingly low level of temperature rise would be catastrophic and, in doing so, galvanized a push for a more ambitious climate agenda. Today, 1.5°C is the reference point for business leaders, government officials and activists alike.

The Glasgow pledge has been hailed as “game-changing” by US president Joe Biden, who has worked with the European Union to lead the initiative. “One of the most important things we can do to keep 1.5°C in reach is reduce our methane emissions,” he said. Biden said he would tackle US methane emissions using regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department for Transportation, which has responsibility for some gas pipelines.

In yet another big announcement made, over 100 countries have pledged to end global deforestation by 2030, with rich countries agreeing to send $19 billion dollars in public and private finance to help forested countries keep trees in the ground. It’s not the first such promise—40 countries already committed to the 2030 target in 2014. But advocates say the scale of the new deal, which covers 85% of the world’s forests, is promising, as are accompanying initiatives announced by businesses and the finance sector.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced his country would cut methane emissions from its sizeable oil and gas industry by 75 per cent by 2030. That is how fast the International Energy Agency says methane emissions will need to be cut if the world is to reach net zero by mid-century.

The voluntary pledge is backed by 15 of the world’s biggest methane emitters including the European Union, Indonesia and Iraq. In total, 105 countries have signed up and John Kerry, the US president’s special envoy on climate, said he expects the number to grow.

Democrats Ready To Vote On Deal Achieving Biden Agenda

After months of tense talks, delayed votes and internal clashes, Democratic leaders are on the cusp of solidifying a deal on President Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda, setting the stage for the House to vote on both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger social benefits package in the coming days, media reports stated.

Party leaders have announced a hard-fought agreement on a proposal to rein in prescription drug costs — which stood among the last stubborn divisions between liberals and party moderates — and lawmakers said they were also nearing a deal on a new tax cut for those living in high-income regions of the country, which was demanded by centrists.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the final language of the social spending package could be released as early as October 2nd night — “That’s the hope,” she said — and across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the upper chamber is aiming to consider the legislation on the week of Nov. 15.  “We’re coming to our conclusions,” Pelosi said.

Congressional Democrats unveiled updated text of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376) on Oct. 28. The $1.75 trillion social spending package is a scaled-back version of the budget reconciliation legislation originally advanced by several House committees of jurisdiction in September.

“We have a bill,” Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) declared Tuesday. “We did not have that last week” when Biden came to Capitol Hill. “We had a wish and a prayer and a promise and a framework … And now we’re going to have a vote on both bills.” “The day-by-day stuff — it all fades away,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). “I’m feeling really good about it.”

Speaking with CNN’s Victor Blackwell on “CNN Newsroom,” Jayapal said that after spending the weekend reviewing the legislative text and conferring with the progressive caucus, she is ready to pass the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as the $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion bill once a few details in the latter are finalized. Progressives, who have so far held up the bipartisan measure by demanding a concurrent vote on the larger package, trust that Biden can get all Democratic senators on board with the social safety net legislation, she said.

“The President said he thinks he can get 51 votes for this bill. We are going to trust him. We are going to do our work in the House and let the Senate do its work,” the Washington state Democrat said. “But we’re tired of, you know, just continuing to wait for one or two people.”

Republicans have lashed out throughout the process, attacking Biden’s social benefits package as a dangerous case of government overreach while characterizing the majority Democrats as ineffective legislators. Not a single GOP lawmaker in either chamber is expected to support the $1.75 trillion legislation.

Democrats dismissed those criticisms outright, saying the messy infighting is part of the routine “sausage-making” that goes into crafting any major legislation. Those tensions will be long forgotten, Democrats maintain, when the president’s agenda is enacted and the numerous family benefits begin to reach workers and families across the country.

Even as Democrats were celebrating, however, there were reminders that more work needs to be done to get the two bills to Biden’s desk. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) — the centrist West Virginian who’s led the effort to scale back Biden’s social safety net expansion — declared Tuesday that he hasn’t endorsed a framework Biden unveiled last week, let alone a final bill.  “There [were] a couple of concerns that we had that we needed to work through,” Manchin said.

Still, Biden predicted late Tuesday that Manchin will ultimately get on board.  “He will vote for this if we have in this proposal what he has anticipated,” Biden told reporters in Scotland, where the president has been participating in a global climate summit — a gathering  that’s only increased the stakes for securing the climate provisions in his social spending package. “We’re going trust the president that he’s going to deliver 51 votes. He’s confident he can deliver 51 votes. We’re going to trust him,” Jayapal said.

The agreement would empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices in limited instances; prevent drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation; and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 per year.

Tuesday’s drug pricing deal was scaled back significantly from House Democrats’ original proposal in order to win support from key moderates who contended a more sweeping overhaul would have harmed innovation from drug companies to develop new treatments. A trio of moderates — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) — helped negotiate the compromise.

“It’s not everything we all wanted; many of us would have wanted to go much further. But it’s a big step in helping the American people deal with the price of drugs,” Sen. Schumer told reporters as he announced the deal.

C.S. Venkatakrishnan To Be CEO of Barclays

Barclays new CEO is CS Venkatakrishnan, an Indian-American and the first person of color to hold that position. Mysore-born CS Venkatakrishnan has replaced Jes Staley as Barclays CEO after the latter stepped down on Monday, November 1st. Barclays said succession planning has been in place for some time, and he had been identified as the preferred candidate more than a year ago.

Jes Staley stepped down from Barclays, which is Britain’s third-biggest bank by market value, after a probe into his relationship with financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The bank said Staley will get a 2.5 million pound ($3.5 million) payout and receive other benefits for a year.

Better known as ‘Venkat’, he studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he got a PhD in operations research, after which he joined JPMorgan Chase in 1994. At JP Morgan Chase, venkat had held senior roles in Asset Management, where he was Chief Investment Officer for approximately $200 billion in Global Fixed Income, as well as in Investment Banking, and in Risk.

He joined Barclays in 2016. Prior to his appointment as Group CEO, Venkat was Head of Global Markets, Co-President of Barclays Bank PLC (BBPLC), and a member of the Group Executive Committee of Barclays, based in New York. He has also served as Chief Risk Officer at Barclays.

Venkat will be on a higher base salary than his predecessor and will receive £2.7 million ($3.69 million) in fixed pay – half in cash and half in shares. This amount is more than Staley’s 2.4 million pounds a year, it’s still a cut from Venkat’s – undisclosed – fixed pay as head of global markets, Barclays’ board said. Venkat will be eligible for a bonus up to a maximum of 93 per cent of his fixed pay and long-term incentives up to 140 per cent of fixed pay per year and a cash payment instead of a pension of £135,000 a year.

Venkatakrishnan joined Barclays as chief risk officer and initiated a comprehensive review of the bank’s exposure to bad credit card debt. The review led to Barclays taking a £320 million impairment charge after Venkatakrishnan urged the bank to adopt a more conservative approach to predicting how much of its credit card book would not be paid. Venkat is the executive sponsor for Embrace, the global multi-cultural network at Barclays, the bank said in its stock exchange announcement on Monday.

The board “identified Venkat as its preferred candidate for this role over a year ago, as a result of which he moved from the position of group chief risk officer to head of global markets,” London-headquartered Barclays noted in an announcement to the stock exchange. “The board has long been confident in Venkat’s capabilities to run the Barclays Group.”

The executive, known for his “genial unflappability” and “fondness for emojis,” appears to care about diversity. He has made progress on promoting women, Bloomberg reported. Venkatakrishnan is also the executive sponsor for Embrace, the global multi-cultural network at Barclays. He leads the company’s “Race at Work Action Plan,” which has strived to improve diversity at the company where underrepresented minorities comprise just 5% and 21% of the staff in the UK and the US respectively.

The 56-year-old who is now based in New York was born in Mysore, the southernmost city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Even now, Venkatakrishnan enjoys a meal at an Indian restaurant that would “serve lunch on orange plastic trays,” Ken Abbott, Barclays’ chief risk officer for the Americas until 2018, told Bloomberg. “He thought that was very authentic.”

Cardamom Goes Hi-Tech, Launches Cloud Based E-Auction

Hailed as the ‘Queen of Spices,’ cardamom is one of the most expensive spices on the planet. The dark seeds found within a light green pod of perennial plants belonging to Zingiberaceae, the ginger family is recognised by its two main forms– Elettaria cardamomum, the more popular smaller fusiform variety with a thin peel called chhoti elaichi, and the larger woodier dark brown Amomum subulatum, better known as badi elaichi.

The latter is found mostly in Eastern Himalayas and China and used in naturopathy and certain food preparations like meat dishes, stews and barbecue sauces, owing to its bolder flavor. And, it is now one of the much soiught after spices India exports around the world.

The Spices Board in India has turned hi-tech when it launched the cloud based live e-auction at Idukki. Inaugurating it, Congress MP Dean Kuriakose said that the cardamom trade and exports play a significant role in the economy of the state and the cloud based live e-auction will empower the supply chain ensuring hassle free trade transactions benefitting the traders and farmers alike.

The live e-auction took place at the centre in Puttady, near Idukki. The Spices Board digitally integrated two of its e-auction centres at Bodinayakanur, Tamil Nadu and Puttady, Idukki and is expanding the market opportunity for cardamom growers and traders equally.

The new facility will double the number of participants in the e-auction and the farmers will get to pitch their produce to a wider market place. Earlier both farmers, traders and auctioneers had to travel between the auction facilities in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to take part in the auctions at the respective auction centres.

D.Sathiyan, secretary, Spices Board, said that by introducing this technologically advanced platform they aim to expand the opportunity for farmers and traders in terms of market and competition ensuring better price realization for cardamom.

“By the introduction of the new platform, there is scope to conduct the e-auction in multi centres, if the stakeholders desire,” said Sathiyan. A.G. Thankappan, chairman Spices Board said: “90 per cent of the cardamom produce is sold in the domestic market and cloud based e-auction will bring in a lot of competitiveness.”

Green cardamom or true cardamom is an ancient spice that grew wild in the southern forests of India and has been used for centuries in food and therapy. One of the oldest spices in the world, it was known across India by myriad regional names, derivatives of its Sanskrit label — eli or ela. It is called elaichi in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, elach in Bengali, yelakki in Kannada, yelakkai in Tamil and Telugu and elathari in Malayalam. The West called it cardamom from its Greek root kardamomom or amomum. The Cardamom Hills or Yela Mala in Kerala’s Idukki district gets its name from the spice that grows in its cool climes, along with pepper. The moist forests of the Western Ghats in Kerala’s Malabar region and Kodagu, Chikmagalur and Uttar Kannada districts of Karnataka provided the ideal environment for growing cardamom, known locally as maley maley yalakki or yelakki

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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

Mukesh Ambani Tops 2021 Forbes List Of India’s Richest

A soaring stock market propelled the combined wealth of members of the 2021 Forbes list of India’s 100 Richest to a record US$775 billion, after adding $257 billion — a 50 per cent rise — in the past 12 months.

In this bumper year, more than 80 per cent of the listees saw their fortunes increase, with 61 adding $1 billion or more. At the top of the list is Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest person since 2008, with a net worth of $92.7 billion. Ambani recently outlined plans to pivot into renewable energy with a $10 billion investment by his Reliance Industries. Close to a fifth of the increase in the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest came from infrastructure tycoon Gautam Adani, who ranks No. 2 for the third year in a row. Adani, who is the biggest gainer in both percentage and dollar terms, nearly tripled his fortune to $74.8 billion from $25.2 billion previously, as shares of all his listed companies soared.

At No. 3 with $31 billion is Shiv Nadar, founder of software giant HCL Technologies, who saw a $10.6 billion boost in his net worth from the country’s buoyant tech sector. Retailing magnate Radhakishan Damani retained the fourth spot with his net worth nearly doubling to $29.4 billion from $15.4 billion, as his supermarket chain Avenue Supermarts opened 22 new stores in the fiscal year ending March.

India has administered over 870 million Covid-19 vaccine shots to date, thanks partly to Serum Institute of India, founded by vaccine billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, who moves into the top five with a net worth of $19 billion. His privately held company makes Covishield under license from AstraZeneca and has other Covid-19 vaccines under development. India’s recovery from a deadly second wave of Covid-19, which broke out earlier this year, restored investor confidence in the world’s sixth-largest economy.

There are six newcomers on this year’s list, with half of them from the booming chemicals sector. They include Ashok Boob (No. 93, $2.3 billion) whose Clean Science and Technology listed in July; Deepak Mehta (No. 97, $2.05 billion) of Deepak Nitrite and Yogesh Kothari (No. 100, $1.94 billion) of Alkyl Amines Chemicals. Arvind Lal (No. 87, $2.55 billion), the executive chairman of diagnostics chain Dr Lal PathLabs, also debuted on the list after a pandemic-induced surge in testing caused shares of his company to double in the past year.

The country’s IPO rush returned property magnate and politician Mangal Prabhat Lodha (No. 42, $4.5 billion) to the ranks, following the April listing of his Macrotech Developers. Among the four other returnees is Prathap Reddy (No. 88, $2.53 billion), whose listed hospital chain Apollo Hospitals Enterprise has been testing and treating Covid-19 patients.

Eleven listees from last year dropped off, given the increased cut-off for gaining entry to this year’s list. The minimum amount required to make this year’s list was $1.94 billion, up from $1.33 billion last year. Naazneen Karmali, Asia Wealth Editor and India Editor of Forbes Asia, said: “This year’s list reflects India’s resilience and can-do spirit even as Covid-19 extracted a heavy toll on both lives and livelihoods. Hopes of a V-shaped recovery fueled a stock market rally that propelled the fortunes of India’s wealthiest to new heights. With the minimum net worth to make the ranks approaching $2 billion, the top 100 club is getting more exclusive.”

Facebook Whistleblower Testimony Should Prompt New Oversight

‘I think we need regulation to protect people’s private data,’ influential Democrat says in wake of Frances Haugen revelations. Testimony in Congress this week by the whistleblower Frances Haugen should prompt action to implement meaningful oversight of Facebook and other tech giants, the influential California Democrat Adam Schiff told the Guardian in an interview to be published on Sunday.

“I think we need regulation to protect people’s private data,” the chair of the House intelligence committee said.

“I think we need to narrow the scope of the safe harbour these companies enjoy if they don’t moderate their contents and continue to amplify anger and hate. I think we need to insist on a vehicle for more transparency so we understand the data better.”

Haugen, 37, was the source for recent Wall Street Journal reporting on misinformation spread by Facebook and Instagram, the photo-sharing platform which Facebook owns. She left Facebook in May this year, but her revelations have left the tech giant facing its toughest questions since the Cambridge Analytica user privacy scandal.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Haugen shared internal Facebook reports and argued that the social media giant puts “astronomical profits before people”, harming children and destabilising democracy via the sharing of inaccurate and divisive content. Haugen likened the appeal of Instagram to tobacco, telling senators: “It’s just like cigarettes … teenagers don’t have good self-regulation.”

Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Haugen’s testimony might represent a “big tobacco” moment for the social media companies, a reference to oversight imposed despite testimony in Congress that their product was not harmful from executives whose companies knew that it was.

The founder and head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has resisted proposals to overhaul the US internet regulatory framework, which is widely considered to be woefully out of date. He responded to Haugen’s testimony by saying the “idea that we prioritise profit over safety and wellbeing” was “just not true”.

“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he said. “We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.” Schiff was speaking to mark publication of a well-received new memoir, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.

The Democrat played prominent roles in the Russia investigation and Donald Trump’s first impeachment. He now sits on the select committee investigating the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, by Trump supporters seeking to overturn his election defeat – an effort in part fueled by misinformation on social media. In his book, Schiff writes about asking representatives of Facebook and two other tech giants, Twitter and YouTube, if their “algorithms were having the effect of balkanising the public and deepening the divisions in our society”.

Facebook’s general counsel in the 2017 hearing, Schiff writes, said: “The data on this is actually quite mixed.” “It didn’t seem very mixed to me,” Schiff says. Asked if he thought Haugen’s testimony would create enough pressure for Congress to pass new laws regulating social media companies, Schiff told the Guardian: “The answer is yes.”

However, as an experienced member of a bitterly divided and legislatively sclerotic Congress, he also cautioned against too much optimism among reform proponents. “If you bet against Congress,” Schiff said, “you win 90% of the time.”

Tata Group Is Frontrunner To Acquire Air India

The new owners of Air India will be decided in the next few days as the financial bids for India’s flag carrier, AIR INDIA are being scrutinized. The Tata Group, which was the original founders of the now largest air carrier in India, is one of the bidders, and is said to be the frontrunner to get hold of the carrier.

Tata Group and SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh in his private capacity had bid for debt-laden state-run airline Air India earlier this month. Accordingly, sources said that the two bids are being scrutinized against a reserve price set for the airline. The process will not go ahead if the bids come in short of the reserve price. Reports stated, a panel of ministers accepted a proposal from bureaucrats, who recommended the conglomerate’s bid ahead of an offer from Ajay Singh, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified as the decision isn’t yet public.

On the official front, DIPAM Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey on Friday tweeted: “Media reports indicating approval of financial bids by Government of India in the AI disinvestment case are incorrect. Media will be informed of the Government decision as and when it is taken.” The tweet comes after a media report indicated that the Centre has selected a winning bid.

Furthermore, sources said that at present senior government officials are conducting separate meetings with the two bidders regarding other aspects of the sale such as the indemnity clause and carry over debt levels of the airline. More or less, the final decision can be made within the next few days by the AISAM (Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism).

The AISAM headed by Home Minister Amit Shah is an empowered GoM, which has the authority to take the final call on the matter, without the need of a Cabinet approval. The AISAM is scheduled to meet after all its members are back in the country.

After the announcement of the winning bid is made, the process of a complete handover is expected to take place within three-four months time. The Centre on September 15 had received multiple financial bids for divestment of Air India. The government has of late taken several steps to fast-track the much-delayed privatization of the national carrier.

Recently, the Centre decided to waive taxes on the transfer of assets from the national carrier to Air India Assets Holding Ltd, a special purpose vehicle (SPV). During the Budget speech for FY22, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that all the proposed privatization process would be completed by the end of the fiscal, including the much-delayed strategic disinvestment of Air India.

This is the second attempt of the current Central government to divest its stake in the airline. In the pre-pandemic era, the airline, on a standalone basis, operated over 50 domestic and more than 40 international destinations. Besides, it operated over 120 aircraft prior to the Covid pandemic. During that period, the airline had over 9,000 permanent and 4,000 contractual employees.

Headquartered in Bombay (Mumbai), AIR INDIA’s first ever scheduled air service was inaugurated in 1932 by J.R.D. Tata, flying mail and passengers between Karāchi, Ahmadābād, Bombay, Bellary, and Madras. By 1939 routes had been extended to Trivandrum, Delhi, Colombo, Lahore, and intermediate points. After World War II, in 1946, Tata Airlines was converted into a public company and renamed Air-India Limited. Two years later, to inaugurate international services between Bombay (Mumbai) and Cairo, Geneva, and London, Air-India International Limited was formed.

In 1953 India nationalized all Indian airlines, creating two corporations—one for domestic service, called Indian Airlines Corporation (merging Air-India Limited with six lesser lines), and one for international service, Air-India International Corporation. The latter’s name was abbreviated to Air-India in 1962. In the following decades as India’s flag carrier, the airline extended its international routes to all continents except South America and Australia, and it expanded its cargo operations. To gain a competitive advantage in computerized reservation searches, the airline removed the hyphen from its name in 2005 to become Air India.1946 R. D. Tata founded Tata Airlines in 1932 as a division of Tata Sons Ltd. (now Tata Group). After World War II, regular commercial service in India went back to normal, Tata Airlines changing its name to Air India and becoming a public limited company on the 29th of July 1946.

On June 9th, 1948, Air India introduced a regular service from Bombay to London, and two years later, AIR INDIA started regular flights to Nairobi. In 1993, AIR INDIA’s first Boeing 747-400, named Konark, operated the first non-stop flight between New York City and Delhi. In 1996, Air India started using its second US gateway at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Services to Air India’s third US gateway at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark were introduced in the year 2000.

In October 2016, AIR INDIA changed the Delhi – San Francisco route previously operated over the Atlantic Ocean to flying over the Pacific Ocean, in order to take advantage of jet stream winds and use less fuel. With the total flown distance being over 15,200 kilometres (9,400 miles), AIR INDIA operated the world’s longest non-stop regular scheduled commercial flight.

In December 2020, the government had invited expression of interest for the divestment of Air India. Four bidders had entered the race to take over the beleaguered airline, but Tata Group and Spicejet CEO Ajay Singh were the only ones to make it to the final stage. The Centre had made an unsuccessful attempt to sell the ailing airline earlier in March 2018. However, its expression of interest to sell 76 per cent stake in Air India had no takers at that juncture due to concerns regarding the airline’s burgeoning debt. Top sources from the Ministry of Civil Aviation said all formalities for the Air India disinvestment process will be completed by December 2021.

Pandora Papers Expose World Leaders Of Secret Wealth

A massive leak of financial documents was published by several major news organizations on Sunday that allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth, including King Abdullah of Jordan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The dump of more than 11.9 million records, amounting to about 2.94 terabytes of data, came five years after the leak known as the “Panama Papers” exposed how money was hidden by the wealthy in ways that law enforcement agencies could not detect.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington, D.C.-based network of reporters and media organizations, said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories. It did not say how the files were obtained, and Reuters could not independently verify the allegations or documents detailed by the consortium.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, a close ally of the United States, was alleged to have used offshore accounts to spend more than $100 million on luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States.

DLA Piper, a London law office representing Abdullah, told the consortium of media outlets that he had “not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use.”

The Washington Post, which is part of the consortium, also reported on the case of Svetlana Krivonogikh, a Russian woman who it said became the owner of a Monaco apartment through an offshore company incorporated on the Caribbean island of Tortola in April 2003 just weeks after she gave birth to a girl. At the time, she was in a secret, years-long relationship with Putin, the newspaper said, citing Russian investigative outlet Proekt.  The Post said Krivonogikh, her daughter, who is now 18, and the Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment.

Days ahead of the Czech Republic’s Oct. 8-9 parliamentary election, the documents allegedly tied the country’s prime minister, Babis, to a secret $22 million estate in a hilltop village near Cannes, France.  Speaking during a television debate on Sunday, Babis denied any wrongdoing. “The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank,” Babis said. (Courtesy: Reuters)

Over 1,000 Indians Have Net Worth of Rs 1,000 Crore

India has achieved the milestone of having over 1,000 individuals with net worth of Rs 1,000 crore, said Hurun India. Accordingly, the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2021 revealed that 1,007 individuals across 119 cities have a net worth of Rs 1,000 crore. The report cited that cumulative wealth was up 51 percent, while average wealth increased by 25 percent. Besides, it showed that 894 individuals saw their wealth increase or stay the same, of which 229 are new faces, while 113 saw their wealth drop and there were 51 dropouts.

Currently, India has 237 billionaires, up 58 compared to last year. “While ‘Chemicals’ and ‘Software’ sectors added the greatest number of new entrants to the list, Pharma is still at number one and has contributed 130 entrants to the list. The youngest in the list is aged 23, three years younger than the youngest last year.” Furthermore, the list report pointed out that Reliance Industries’ Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani continued to be the richest man in India for the 10th consecutive year with a wealth of Rs 718,000 crore.

“With INR 505,900 crore, Gautam Adani & family moved up two places to the second spot in the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2021.” The Adani group has a combined market capitalization of Rs 9 lakh crore, except Adani Power, all listed companies are valued at more than a lakh crore. “Gautam Adani is the only Indian to build not one, but five Rs 1 lakh crore companies,” said Anas Rahman Junaid, MD and chief researcher, Hurun India. In addition, Shiv Nadar of HCL retained the third rank, as HCL’s limited exposure to Covid affected segments such as travel, retail and hospitality resulted in a 67 percent increase in his wealth to Rs 236,600 crore.

For the 12 months that ended in December 2020, HCL became only the third Indian IT company to break through the $10 billion revenue mark. With 255 individuals Mumbai tops the list of richest Indians followed by New Delhi (167), Bengaluru (85). Hyderabad retained the fourth position. Chennai overtook Ahmedabad at the fifth place.

Under BJP Regime, India’s External Debt Rises To $571 Billion

India’s external debt for the quarter ended June 2021 increased on a year-on-year as well as on sequential basis, official data showed last week. The external debt during the period under review rose to $571.3 billion from $555.2 billion reported for the quarter ended June 2020.

On a sequential basis, at end-June 2021, the external debt recorded an increase of $1.6 billion over $569.7 billion reported for end-March 2021 period. “The external debt to GDP ratio declined to 20.2 per cent at end-June 2021 from 21.1 per cent at end-March 2021,” the RBI said in a statement.

“Valuation gain due to the appreciation of the US dollar vis-a-vis Indian rupee was placed at $1.7 billion. Excluding the valuation effect, external debt would have increased by $3.3 billion instead of $1.6 billion at end-June 2021 over end-March 2021.”

According to the RBI, commercial borrowings remained the largest component of external debt, with a share of 37.4 per cent, followed by non-resident deposits at 24.8 per cent, and short-term trade credit 17.4 per cent. “At end-June 2021, long-term debt (with original maturity of above one year) was placed at $468.8 billion, recording an increase of $0.2 billion over its level at end-March 2021.” (IANS)

In Meeting With CEOs, Modi Urges Investment in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday commenced his visit in Washington D.C. with meetings with the top brass of the multinational companies based in the United States, hard-selling his government’s initiatives to draw more foreign investments to revive the Covid-hit economy of India, including the recently launched Production Linked Incentive scheme.

On the first leg of his visit to the United States, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sept. 23 met leading American CEOs here, including Indian American executives. He held one-on-one meetings with the CEOs of semiconductor and wireless technology manufacturer Qualcomm, software major Adobe, renewable energy firm First Solar, arms manufacturer General Atomics and investment management company Blackstone.

India has great potential for attracting investments and manufacturing under the various programs introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as companies try to diversify their global footprints, according to hi-tech CEOs who met him. “Because of the necessity to diversify and build a very resilient supply chain for semiconductors, we believe India could be an important destination for manufacturing,” Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon told reporters in Washington after his meeting with Prime Minister Modi on Thursday.

Prime Minister Modi’s “approach to drive economic growth in making India, a destination for investment for investment has been very successful,” said the CEO of the $150 billion company that is a leader in the manufacture of chips used in everything from cameras to aircraft and a pioneer in 5G technology. The high level of optimism for India comes as the US and several other countries rethink their supply chains and their manufacturing bases, while also keeping an eye on China, which is set on trying to get a stranglehold on future technologies with strategic goals.

First Solar’s CEO Mark Widmar said that what Prime Minister Modi has done to “create a really strong balance between industrial policy as well as trade policy” makes it an ideal opportunity for companies like First Solar to establish manufacturing in India. “His commitment to ensuring domestic capabilities and ensuring his long term climate goals and objectives with focus on energy independence and security”, Widmar said is an alignment that “couldn’t be better for companies that are looking to manufacture in India. And I think the enablement of an environment that is pro-business, this is more opportunity for us to be successful to help India achieve its climate goals.”

First Solar is one of the world’s largest developer and financier of photovoltaic solar power systems connected to grids. The “very laudable policy prescriptions and reforms” introduced by Prime Minister Modi “will certainly catalyse a lot of interest and investments in India,” Vivek Lal, the CEO of General Atomics, said in the series of video interviews posted on twitter by the Ministry of External Affairs. “Many of my colleagues at US companies see India as a very promising destination,” he said.

He said that the reforms in both India and the US have created a “win-win” situation and both countries can benefit from their collaboration. General Atomics is a defence and technology company and a leader in the development and manufacture of drones. Shantanu Narayen, the CEO of Adobe, said he was “a huge supporter, and fan of what the Prime Minister’s doing” to improve the business and investment climate in India. He said the ecosystem for startups in India is “awesome”.

“As Indian Americans, I mean, what could be more inspiring or a matter of pride than seeing what the Prime Minister is doing to really encourage startups, to really encourage investment in India,” he said. “What’s really inspiring, is that these Indian startups are actually having as their growth the entire world,” he said. “So their aspirations are not restricted to India, they’re actually thinking about how they conquer the world.”

Adobe is the maker of ubiquitous document software and the leader in multi-media solutions.

Prime Minister Modi met with Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the investment company, Blackstone.

A tweet from the Prime Minister’s Office said that “giving greater momentum to investments in India,” they discussed “various investment opportunities in India, including those arising due to the National Infrastructure Pipeline and National Monetisation Pipeline.” (The two programmes provide for privatisation with time limits for some national resources or government enterprises.)

About his meeting with Modi, Amon said, “We talked about incredible opportunity to advance the industry not only domestically in India but Indian as an exporter of technology as we think about the digital transformation.”

“Very pleased with the conversations and we’re very, very happy with everything we’re doing together with India,” he added. Narayen said that the key topic was “continued investment in innovation, because he certainly believes that technology is the way to help move things forward.”

They also “talked about artificial intelligence and what might happen with artificial intelligence, we talked about creativity, the importance of creativity and how media, the ever-changing nature of video,” he said.

About his company’s plans, he said, “India is a big area of investment for us. Adobe has three growth initiatives: Everything around creativity, document productivity and powering digital businesses, and artificial intelligence is going to change how all those three solutions are delivered. So we intend to continue to invest heavily in it.”

Widmar said, “One of the things we want to do in India is not only to be there to support the domestic market, but we want to be a technology leader in leveraging capabilities that India can provide. And then also compete on a global platform and to participate in export into international markets.” He said that India’s goal of producing 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 was of global significance in dealing with climate change and “we would want to be part of this.”

Is U.S. Losing The Race To Decide The Future Of Money?

In cities across China, the country’s central bank has begun rolling out the e-renminbi—an all-digital version of its paper currency that can be accessed and accepted by merchants and consumers without an internet connection, credit or even a bank account. Already having conducted more than $5 billion in e-renminbi transactions, China has opened its digital currency up to foreigners. Next year, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympic Games, authorities are expecting to let the world test drive its technological achievement.

The U.S., by contrast, is having trouble even concluding its multi-year exploration into the possibility of an e-dollar. In fact, an upcoming Federal Reserve paper on a potential U.S. digital currency won’t take a position on whether the central bank of the United States will, or even should, create one. Instead, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in recent testimony to Congress, this paper will “begin a major public consultation on central bank digital currencies…” (Once planned for July, the paper’s release has since been moved to September.)

Once the world leader in digital payments and technological innovation, the U.S. is being outpaced by its top global adversary as well as much of the industrialized and the developing world. The Bahamas recently announced the integration of its digital Sand Dollar into a stock exchange, while Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa are moving forward with the world’s first cross-border central bank digital currency exchange program led by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is known as the central bank of central banks.

Such developments have been somewhat outshined by El Salvador’s recent decision to make bitcoin a legally accepted currency, which few expect to make significant impact in the payment space. But outside of the cryptocurrency space, nations around the globe are making significant strides in the development of the digital future of money — supported by governments and backed by powerful central banks. Leadership in this space will have implications for more than just payments: geopolitical ambitions, economic growth, financial inclusion and the very nature of money could all be dictated by who leads the charge and how.

“I don’t think the U.S. is aware there is a race”

Digital currencies are the next wave in the “evolution of the nature of money in the digital economy,” Hyun Song Shin, economic adviser and co-leader of the Monetary and Economic Department at the Bank for International Settlements, tells TIME. As more of our world migrates from physical brick-and-mortar to wireless and cloud-based, the way we pay for things is changing as well. A central bank digital currency would operate just like cash, but instead of having to carry it in a physical wallet or put it into a bank account, it would be stored and accessed digitally. Not only could U.S.-backed digital currency facilitate easier, modern banking, it could prove vital in protecting American international influence.

Late to the party, the U.S. is “stepping up its research and public engagement” on digital currencies, the Federal Reserve says, including forming working groups on cryptocurrency and other kinds of digital money, and experimenting with technology that would be central to producing a digital dollar. The Fed’s regional Boston branch is overseeing these efforts with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on what’s known as Project Hamilton. But the path towards a digital U.S. dollar has met many challenges, skeptics and outright opponents. All while China, and other countries, push forward.

Lagging behind the world

Just how far behind is the U.S. in the development of a central bank-issued digital currency (CBDC)? According to global accounting firm PwC’s inaugural CBDC global index, which tracks various CBDCs’ project status from research to development and production, the U.S. ranks 18th in the world. America’s potential efforts trail countries like Sweden, South Korea and China but also countries like the Bahamas, Ecuador, Eastern Caribbean and Turkey. China, with its government’s hyperfocus on maintaining control and overseeing data, has been working to develop a CBDC for almost a decade.

And the U.S. is probably not close to catching up. Analysts like Harvard economics professor Kenneth Rogoff, who study monetary policy and digital currencies, estimate that the U.S. could be at least a decade away from issuing a digital dollar backed by the Fed. In that time, Rogoff argued in an op-ed earlier this year, the modernization of China’s financial markets and reduction or removal of its currency controls “could deal the dollar’s status a painful blow.”

China has already largely moved away from coin and paper currency; Chinese consumers have racked up more than $41 trillion in mobile transactions, according to a recent research paper from the Brookings Institution, with the lion’s share (92%) going through digital payment processors WeChat Pay and Alipay.

“The reason you could say the U.S. is behind in the digital currency race is I don’t think the U.S. is aware there is a race,” Yaya Fanusie, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and a former CIA analyst, tells TIME in an interview. “A lot of policymakers are looking at it and concerned…but even with that I just don’t think there’s this sense of urgency because the risk from China is not an immediate threat.” Not only is the U.S. running significantly behind in the development of a CBDC, we are trailing the rest of the world in digital payments broadly.

Kenya, for example, has almost fully digitized its economy through its digital currency and payment system MPESA, making transactions free and almost instantaneous. India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) allows users to transfer money instantly between bank accounts with no cost. Brazil’s PIX facilitates the transfer of money between people and companies in up to 10 seconds. All of these programs work through and are overseen by the countries’ central banks rather than commercial banks or other private companies.

What’s holding the U.S. back?

Critics argue CBDCs are simply a solution in search of a problem and potentially harmful. Many see support from the banking sector as vital to the success of a digital U.S. dollar, however commercial banks in the U.S. have taken a largely adversarial stance. “The proposed benefits of CBDCs to international competitiveness and financial inclusion are theoretical, difficult to measure and may be elusive,” the American Bankers Association said in a statement at a recent congressional hearing on digital currencies. “While the negative consequences for monetary policy, financial stability, financial intermediation, the payments system, and the customers and communities that banks serve could be severe.”

The Bank Policy Institute, which lobbies on behalf of the country’s largest banks, went so far as to argue that neither the Fed nor the U.S. Treasury even has the constitutional authority to issue a digital currency. Commercial banks dominate the U.S. financial system to such a degree that unraveling them would be ostensibly impossible, experts say, they also would be a powerful adversary. Former Goldman Sachs managing director Nomi Prins notes banks have clearly seen the writing on the wall.

“Banks are centralized middlemen with respect to financial transactions,” Prins, author of Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World, tells TIME. “The more popular cryptocurrency or digital currency becomes, the fewer profits the banking system can reap from traditional services and verification methods that allow them to hold, take or use their customers’ money, and the more financial power they stand to lose as a result.” Even disruptive financial technologies like PayPal, Venmo and Zelle work through the banking system, rather than around it, thanks in large part to the banks’ power.

Central bankers also generally have concluded that commercial banks are a necessary piece of a potential CBDC ecosystem, thanks to their pre-existing regulatory guardrails and ability to move money. Top policymakers at the Fed, including influential Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, have joined the banking industry in arguing that a digital dollar “could pose significant and concrete risks” and that the potential benefits “are unclear.” Fed Governor Christopher Waller said in August he was “skeptical that a Federal Reserve CBDC would solve any major problem confronting the U.S. payment system,” in a recent speech he titled “CBDC: A Solution in Search of a Problem?”  Further, there’s no central U.S. authority with direct oversight or responsibility for any of this.

In addition to the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Thrift Supervision, Financial Stability Oversight Council, Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council and the Office of Financial Research would all have some stake in the development of a digital currency backed by the central bank, to say nothing of state and regional authorities.

“The U.S. has an active congressional debate, which is beneficial and very important,” Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard tells TIME in an interview. “But the U.S. also has a diffusion of regulatory responsibility with no single payments regulator at the federal level, which is not as helpful. That diffusion of responsibility is part of what creates the lags that our system is working through.” None of this exists in China where the Chinese Communist Party oversees the central bank, commercial banks and their regulators and is unconcerned with privacy.

How a downgraded dollar could hamstring U.S. influence

An American CBDC could have lasting geopolitical impact and curb a longstanding international effort to reduce reliance on the mighty U.S. dollar. “Why we should care about this is that the U.S. financial system is not intrinsically dominant,” Fanusie says. “Other countries, both allies and adversaries, are sincerely interested in finding ways to decrease their dependence on the dollar.” With the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve and primary funding currency, the U.S. can restrict access to funding from financial markets, limit countries’ ability to sell their natural resources and hinder or block individuals’ access to the banking sector.

“Other countries, both allies and adversaries, are sincerely interested in finding ways to decrease their dependence on the dollar”

While dollar dominance has rankled much of the world for decades, there has been no suitable replacement for the U.S., with its massive economy, sophisticated banking system and sprawling international presence. China is in the midst of a long-term push to simultaneously grow its financial markets and internationalize its currency. Both have the end goal of allowing China and its allies to limit the ability of the U.S. to enforce its will through economic actions like sanctions. Fanusie wrote in a January report that being the first major economy to roll out a digital currency is “part of China’s geopolitical ambitions.”

However, the renminbi will not become the world’s reserve currency — at least, not any time soon. But what China has done by being in the forefront of CBDC development is put itself in position to take the lead on development and implementation of rules and regulations for digital currencies on a global scale. “While America led the global revolution in payments half a century ago with magnetic striped credit and debit cards, China is leading the new revolution in digital payments,” writes Brookings’ economic studies fellow Aaron Klein.

Why should central banks offer digital currencies?

Over the past decade, digital currencies, including cryptocurrency and “stablecoins,” have sprung up like weeds. Some purport to be just as safe as dollars, but are backed by questionable assets. In a crisis regulators worry they could fluctuate wildly in value or lose their value altogether. Having central banks, which are responsible for the printing and circulation of coins and paper money, issue digital currencies is in part a reaction to this private sector activity, Shin says, “accelerated by the potential encroachment of private digital currencies, and the need to preserve the role of money as a public good.”

“The status quo is not an option”

Notably, a U.S. digital currency could provide benefits to everyday people. It could increase financial inclusion and fix flaws in current payments systems, Shin adds, citing findings of a recent BIS study.

For example, transferring money between U.S.-based bank accounts, even those held by the same person, can take days. The process can be even longer when crossing international borders. Credit and debit card transactions similarly don’t settle for days and come with significant fees for merchants, who sometimes pass them on to customers. CBDCs could grant universal access to the banking sector and quickly facilitate the distribution of paychecks and government funds, reducing the need for costly bank workarounds like check cashing and payday loans.

Championing CBDCs

Brainard has been pushing the Fed to move on a digital currency for years, but there was little urgency from others at the Fed or in Congress. Companies developing their own currencies, consumers investing in cryptocurrency and the COVID-19 pandemic making paper notes anathema to many Americans changed that. Before COVID-19, Facebook’s Libra project (now known as Diem) showed lawmakers and central bankers the potential for a private company to step in and fill the void by effectively minting its own currency that could be spent by users around the world.

“The status quo is not an option,” Diem co-creator David Marcus said at the International Monetary Fund’s 2019 fall meeting. “Whether it’s Libra or something else, the world is going to change in a profound way.” Brainard, for one, has taken notice. “My own thinking is that stablecoins and related private sector initiatives are moving very rapidly, which makes it incumbent on us to move more rapidly,” she tells TIME. “That is why I have been pushing to advance outreach, cross-border engagement, and policy and technology research for several years now.” So-called stablecoins — unregulated digital currencies created by private companies that purport to represent dollars but are completely unregulated — have become a significant worry for lawmakers and shown the importance of considering tying currency to a central bank.

“It’s getting harder and harder for community banks to compete for new customers when big tech companies can afford to spend billions on marketing and technology,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, tells TIME. “But many of these new ‘fintech’ products don’t come with the consumer protections, federal backing or customer service and relationships with the community that small banks and credit unions provide.”

During a hearing on digital currencies in June, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, compared stablecoins to worthless “wildcat notes” that were issued by speculators in the 19th century. Her expert at that hearing, Lev Menand, an Academic Fellow and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School, went further in his testimony, calling stablecoins “dangerous to both their users and … to the broader financial system.”

With private companies pushing deeper into the digital currency space, rival countries seeking to seize leadership and a public that is moving further away from physical currency, the U.S. is facing a world in which it may not control or even lead the world’s payment systems. That would make the future of money look very different from the past.

South-South & Triangular Cooperation To Help Achieve UN’s Development Goals

The 2021 high-level commemoration of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, organized ahead of the opening of the seventy-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly, provided an opportunity to discuss Southern solidarity in support of a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable future while effectively responding to the global COVID-19 crisis across the global South. The 2021 United Nations Day for South-South cooperation presented the opportunity for stakeholders to highlight concrete follow-up to the twentieth session of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation (HLC), which took place from 1 to 4 June 2021 in New York. “South-South and triangular cooperation must have a central place in our preparations for a strong recovery”, says Secretary-General António Guterres, reminding us that “we will need the full contributions and cooperation of the global South to build more resilient economies and societies and implement the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The General Assembly High-level Committee (HLC) on South-South Cooperation met in June to review progress made in implementing the Buenos Aires Action Plan (BAPA+40) and other key decisions on South-South cooperation. This HLC session considered follow-up actions arising from previous sessions and hosted a thematic discussion on “Accelerating the achievement of the SDGs through effective implementation of the BAPA+40 outcome document while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and similar global crises”. The HLC hosted 75 member states – including a Head of State and Ministers from around the world – as well as 23 intergovernmental organizations, 25 UN entities, civil society and the private sector. More than 400 people participated during side events which HLC Bureau Members took the lead in organizing on issues of importance to the South.

Deliberations focused on actions arising from the Report of the Secretary-General to the nineteenth session, which proposed concrete ways to enhance the role and impact of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, as well as the key measures taken to improve the coordination and coherence of UN support to South-South cooperation. In terms of important messages and statements, Member States highlighted that COVID-19 has taught the world that South-South development cooperation is critical to an effective response to emergencies.

South-South cooperation was strongly reaffirmed as the means to support countries’ national development priorities, alignment with the SDGs, and the acceleration of achievement toward the 2030 Agenda. South-South cooperation was also recognized as an effective approach to accelerate and deepen the efforts to build back better, healthier, safer, more resilient and sustainable. It was emphasized that over the past decade, the world has witnessed the increase in the scale, scope, and diversity of approaches of South-South and triangular cooperation.

Countries of the Global South have strengthened institutional capacities for cooperation by formulating and implementing national development policies, strategies, and agencies, and by developing information and performance management systems for data gathering, expertise and technology mapping, and impact assessment. With the strengthening of national capacities on South-South and triangular cooperation there is opportunity to collect and exchange evidence of how much South-South and triangular cooperation is being done, how it benefits people, and how to create institutional mechanisms to help countries align South-South collaboration with their national and regional agendas.

As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic and strives to build back better, international development organizations must offer innovative, timely responses to remain relevant. This includes new forms of coordination based on more “coherent” and “integrated support” capable of unleashing change on the ground. Traditionally, South-South and triangular cooperation has taken place among governments on bilateral terms. As development becomes more dynamic in nature and unprecedented in scale, South-South and triangular cooperation is now used to source innovation from wherever it is.

Also highlighted was that South-South and triangular cooperation is increasingly recognized as an important complement to North-South cooperation in financing for sustainable development. UNOSSC will continue to promote, coordinate and support South-South and triangular cooperation globally and within the UN system. It will also continue to support governments and the UN system to analyse and articulate evolving and emerging trends, dynamics and opportunities in South-South cooperation.

In response to Member States requests, UNOSSC consistently demonstrates strong convening power across the UN system and serves as secretariat of UN Conferences including BAPA+40. UNOSSC has developed research networks at the global level, compiling evidence of good practices in South-South cooperation toward achievement of the SDGs, and created a global network of think tanks on South-South and triangular cooperation. UNOSSC also offers the South-South Galaxy platform for sharing knowledge and brokering partnership. The Office also manages a number of South-South cooperation trust funds and programmes. Given UNOSSC’s mandate to support South-South and triangular cooperation globally and within the UN system, the Secretary-General requested UNOSSC to coordinate the preparation and launch of the UN System-wide Strategy on South-South and Triangulation Cooperation for Sustainable Development with the engagement of the UN Inter-Agency Mechanism for South-South and Triangular Cooperation, and other stakeholders.

The Strategy’s objective is to provide a system-wide policy orientation to UN entities in order to galvanize a coordinated and coherent approach to policy, programmatic and partnership support on South-South and triangular cooperation and increase impact across UN activities at all levels: national, regional and global. Implementation is governed by each entity individually, based on its own mandate and programme of work. UNOSSC is also currently developing its 2022-2025 Strategic Framework. It is an opportunity for the Office to catalyze the use of South-South and triangular cooperation to accelerate the speed and scale of action towards achieving the SDGs.

For example, the Office aims to offer a platform whereby: (i) countries of the Global South can exchange knowledge, develop capacities, and transfer technologies to address their own development priorities as well as coordinate and co-design solutions to shared development challenges; (ii) UN agencies, programs, and funds can strengthen their support to SSTC at the global, regional and country levels. No country is too poor to contribute to South-South cooperation for development, and no country is too rich to lean from the South. All partners have important elements to contribute. So, it follows that triangular cooperation is an important element of our work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the digital revolution. Building institutional capacity in sub-Saharan Africa and LDCs through South-South and triangular cooperation is essential for countries to fully harness digital transformation and recovery. Triangular cooperation is a flexible platform where partners can mobilize different funding capacities in support of developing countries’ priorities. Triangular cooperation demands horizontality and shared governance approved by all parties. It is based on a clear respect for national sovereignty and the seeking of mutual benefit in equal partnerships.

Recovery from pandemic requires additional support, innovative development solutions and arrangements between public and private sectors. We must facilitate opportunities to expand development cooperation and its processes and to improve the effectiveness of multilateral cooperation. Fostering multi-dimensionality and multi-stakeholders approaches is the way forward to enhance development impact.

During the June HLC Member States highlighted that in the COVID and post-COVID era, the below priority areas for triangular cooperation could be considered: 1) health, 2) data infrastructure, 3) manufacturing capacity and supply chain for relevant medical material and equipment, as well as treatment; 4) solar energy and reducing carbon footprint; 5) a coalition for disaster resilient initiatives; and 6) currency swap arrangements from international financial institutions.

Cash Will Soon Be Obsolete. Will America Be Ready?

When was the last time you made a payment with dollar bills?

Some people still prefer to use cash, perhaps because they like the tactile nature of physical currency or because it provides confidentiality in transactions. But digital payments, made with the swipe of a card or a few taps on a cellphone, are fast becoming the norm. To keep their money relevant, many central banks are experimenting with digital versions of their currencies. These currencies are virtual, like Bitcoin; but unlike Bitcoin, which is a private enterprise, they are issued by the state and function much like traditional currencies. The idea is for central banks to introduce these digital currencies in limited circulation—to exist alongside cash as just another monetary option—and then to broaden their circulation over time, as they gain in popularity and cash fades away. ChinaJapan, and Sweden have begun trials of central bank digital currency. The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are preparing their own trials. The Bahamas has already rolled out the world’s first official digital currency. The end of cash is on the horizon, and it will have far-reaching effects on the economy, finance and society more broadly.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, by contrast, has largely stayed on the sidelines. This could be a lost opportunity. The United States should develop a digital dollar, not because of what other countries are doing, but because the benefits of a digital currency far outweigh the costs. One benefit is security. Cash is vulnerable to loss and theft, a problem for both individuals and businesses, whereas digital currencies are relatively secure. Electronic hacking does pose a risk, but one that can be managed with new technologies. (As it happens, offshoots of Bitcoin’s technology could prove helpful in increasing security.)

Digital currencies also benefit the poor and the “unbanked.” It is hard to get a credit card if you don’t have much money, and banks charge fees for low-balance accounts that can make them prohibitively expensive. But a digital dollar would give everyone, including the poor, access to a digital payment system and a portal for basic banking services. Each individual or household could have a fee-free, noninterest-bearing account with the Federal Reserve, linked to a cellphone app for making payments. (About 97 percent of American adults have a cellphone or a smartphone.) To see how this might help, consider the payments that the U.S. government made to households as part of the coronavirus stimulus packages. Millions of low-income households without bank accounts or direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Service experienced complications or delays in getting those payments. Checks and debit cards mailed to many of them were delayed or lost, and scammers found ways to intercept payments. Central-bank accounts could have reduced fraud and made administering stimulus payments easier, faster and more secure.

A central-bank digital currency can also be a useful policy tool. Typically, if the Federal Reserve wants to stimulate consumption and investment, it can cut interest rates and make cheap credit available. But if the economy is cratering and the Fed has already cut the short-term interest rate it controls to near zero, its options are limited. If cash were replaced with a digital dollar, however, the Fed could impose a negative interest rate by gradually shrinking the electronic balances in everyone’s digital currency accounts, creating an incentive for consumers to spend and for companies to invest. A digital dollar would also hinder illegal activities that rely on anonymous cash transactions, such as drug dealing, money laundering and terrorism financing. It would bring “off the books” economic activity out of the shadows and into the formal economy, increasing tax revenues. Small businesses would benefit from lower transaction costs, since people would use credit cards less often, and they would avoid the hassles of handling cash.

To be sure, there are potential risks to central-bank digital currencies, and any responsible plan should prepare for them. For example, a digital dollar would pose a danger to the banking system. What if households were to move their money out of regular bank accounts and into central-bank accounts, perceiving them as safer, even if they pay no interest? The central bank could find itself in the undesirable position of having to allocate credit, deciding which sectors and businesses deserve loans. But this risk can be managed. Commercial banks could vet customers and maintain the central-bank digital currency accounts along with their own interest-bearing deposit accounts. The digital currency accounts might not directly help banks earn profits, but they would attract customers who could then be offered savings or loan products. (To help protect commercial banks, limits can also be placed on the amount of money stored in central-bank accounts, as the Bahamas has done.) A central-bank digital currency could be designed for use across different payment platforms, promoting private sector competition and encouraging innovations that make electronic payments cheaper, quicker and more secure.

Another concern is the loss of privacy that central-bank digital currencies entail. Even with protections in place to ensure confidentiality, no central bank would forgo the ability to audit and trace transactions. A digital dollar could threaten what remains of anonymity and privacy in commercial transactions—a reminder that adopting a digital dollar is not just an economic but also a social decision. The end of cash is on the horizon, and it will have far-reaching effects on the economy, finance and society more broadly. With proper preparation and open discussion, we should embrace the advent of a digital dollar.

In Kerala Village, Expatriates Join Hands To Set Up Steel Plant

After working in Sharjah for 15 years, T C Shiju, 42, returned to his home in Thikkodi village, in Kozhikode district of Kerala, about two years ago. He was exploring investment choices, when he found a viable option in his village itself. With an investment of just Rs 1 lakh, he became a partner in GTF Steel Pipes and Tubes LLP, a novel manufacturing venture set up by expatriates hailing from Thikkodi and its surrounding villages. Set up by the Global Thikkodiyans Forum (GTF) — a social media group of expatriates from Thikkodi floated in 2015 following a looming job crisis in the Middle East – in May 2018, the unit commenced production earlier this month.

This is the first such attempt in the state where expatriates, and returnees, of a village have come together and mobilized capital for a business enterprise of this kind. The total investment of Rs 18 crore was raised from 207 people. Of these, 147 invested only Rs 1 lakh each. The price of a share was fixed at Rs 50,000, and an individual had to invest in at least two shares. There was a cap on the maximum investment as well – Rs 40 lakh per person. “The major highlight of the venture is that a large section of investors are ordinary people who have some small savings, a few lakh rupees, after years of toil in the Gulf. But for an initiative of this type, they would not have been able to be a part of a professional business venture,” said GTF Steels Chairman Mohammed Basheer Nadammal.

“Most of these returnees invest in trade or hotel industry, and then back out after incurring huge losses. Our concern was to make such people a part of a business venture,’’ he said. Ummer Koyilil, 60, returned to Thikkodi village about two years ago, after working in Bahrain for 18 years. “I tried to set up a small business, but it did not materialise,” he said. “I have invested only Rs 1 lakh in this venture. This has given me exposure to a business enterprise. Otherwise, I would have ended up as a small trader,’’ he said. Before deciding to set up a unit to manufacture galvanised iron pipes and tubes, the GTF explored other possibilities, including integrated farming and tourism.

Explaining why they opted to set up the unit, GTF Steels CEO Ishaq Koyilil, also from Thikkodi, said: “As per our analysis, the monthly demand of GI pipes and tubes in Kerala was 40,000 metric tones during pre-Covid. It would be down to 25,000 metric tones now. However, the production in Kerala is only 4,000 metric tones per month. Our monthly production capacity is 3,000 metric tones. We see a huge growth potential, as construction and infrastructure sectors are poised for major growth in Kerala.” None of the partners work in the factory. The recruitment was done in a professional manner, with only qualified, trained workers being selected.

Abdul Latheef, also from Thikkodi, said they wanted to put forward a business and investment model which could be emulated across the state. “This model will help ordinary expatriates to invest their hard-earned savings in viable business ventures. We have 2,000-odd members in the GTF. Only those interested in investing in the steel industry were selected as partners. We are planning other enterprises too, in which others in the forum can invest,’’ he said.

Dubai To Allow Indian Expats With Expired Residence Visa To Return

In a move that brings relief to thousands of Indian expats, Dubai announced it will allow them to come back even if their residence visas have expired. Also allowed to return were residence visa holders from Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Uganda. Anyone holding an expired Dubai residence visa now has time to return until November 10. A large number of Indian expats had flown back to the country earlier this year when the second wave of Covid-19 was rampant, and were then unable to return to the UAE as the flights were suspended.

Fly Dubai, the low-cost carrier operating from the emirates, posted on its website: “The GDRFA has extended the expiry date of Dubai-issued UAE resident visas for nationals of India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda who are stranded outside of the UAE. “This applies to Dubai-issued UAE resident visas which have expired or will expire between April 20, 2021 and November 9, 2021 inclusive.”

However, the airline said that the expiry will not be extended for holders of Dubai-issued visas who have stayed outside of the UAE for more than six months, if they left before October 20, 2020. It was unclear at the moment if the same offer applied to residence visas issued by Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, or other emirates.

The move was later confirmed by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) to Gulf News. In a statement, the GDRFA said: “The procedure will be done according to certain conditions and procedures including that the beneficiaries must be outside the country since the expiry date of residency between April 20, 2021 and November 8, 2021. GDRFA-Dubai will extend the residency visas until November 9.” Once the expats return with expired visa enter the country, the system will give them a 30-day grace period from the date of entry to change their status and renew their visas. (IANS) Boom! United Airlines Just Bought 15 Supersonic Jets That Fly on ‘Sustainable’ Fuel .The airline plans to buy the Overture jets from Boom Supersonic to make its fleet faster and more sustainable.

United Airlines Plans To Purchase 15 Supersonic Overture Jets From Boom Supersonic

The US airline is the first to announce plans to go supersonic, reviving dreams from the late 1960s when British Airways and Air France offered transatlantic flights aboard the Concorde. Only 20 were built during the aircraft’s 24-year operational life. The Overture, which would seat between 65 and 88 passengers, would cut flight time in half over a conventional commercial airliner, with a top speed of Mach 1.7, or 1,304 mph. A flight from New York to London would take just 3.5 hours, according to Boom, and Los Angeles to Sydney would be about eight hours. Unlike the Concorde, which was neither fuel-efficient nor quiet, the Overture will be designed to be “net-carbon zero,” and will cut emissions, according to Boom, by running on sustainable aviation fuel. The first aircraft is slated to roll out in 2025, fly in 2026 and carry its first passengers by 2029.

“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable to include supersonic planes,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to a stellar flight experience.” The announcement is not the first of an intended partnership between a supersonic firm and a large aviation company.

Both Flexjet and NetJets announced that they planned to buy business jets from Aerion. The Reno-based company had the fastest, most ambitious rollout of its AS2, while also planning to break ground on a new research and production campus near Orlando sometime this year. Last week, it abruptly said it was shutting down because it couldn’t secure long-term funding. Boom seems to be farther along in its development stages than its former competitor. It rolled out a third-scale demonstrator aircraft, the XB1, last year. Boom CEO Blake Scholl recently told a Congressional panel that it plans to fly it for the first time by the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

Overture will be designed with in-seat entertainment screens, large personal space and contactless technology. “At speeds twice as fast, United passengers will experience all the advantages of life lived in person, from deeper, more productive business relationships to longer, more relaxing vacations to far-off destinations,” said Scholl in announcing the deal. United also has the option to buy 35 more Overtures. Scholl recently said that the Overture represents the first dramatic speed gains in new aircraft since the Concorde. “We see ourselves as picking up where Concorde left off, and fixing the most important things which are economic and environmental sustainability,” he told CNN recently, adding: “Either we fail or we change the world.”

U.S. Crypto Regulation Talks Are Heating Up, With Three Major Themes Emerging Here’s What They Mean For Investors

One of the founding principles of cryptocurrency is that it’s decentralized and unregulated. But the U.S. government isn’t too worried about crypto’s founding principles. SEC chair Gary Gensler spoke at the Aspen Security Forum Tuesday, highlighting his view of the SEC’s role in cryptocurrency regulation. Gensler called the current crypto landscape the ‘Wild West’. A few key themes have emerged on the subject of new U.S. cryptocurrency regulation: stopping cryptocurrency crime and tax evasion, stablecoin regulation, and the potential for investment vehicles like crypto ETFs and other funds.

For many crypto enthusiasts, the decentralized nature of digital currencies — which, unlike traditional currencies, aren’t backed by any institution or government authority — is a big draw. But regulatory guidance can help protect investors. “As much as I like the decentralization and the lack of government [involvement], I am glad that they are paying attention because unfortunately with cryptocurrency, there are a lot of scams,” says Kiana Danial, author of “Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies.” Here’s a rundown of the proposals we’ve seen so far, and how they may affect cryptocurrency investors in the future: Cryptocurrency Crime and Tax Evasion Cryptocurrency regulation is tucked into a provision of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill moving through Congress.

The provision would expand the definition of a brokerage to include companies that facilitate digital asset trades — like cryptocurrency exchanges. The change would mean increased tax reporting responsibility to help the IRS track crypto tax evasion. Some lawmakers and industry groups argue that the language of the draft is too broad, according to reporting by the Washington Post. Additionally, SEC Chairman Gensler spoke recently about a need to increase regulation and help prevent more ransomware attacks, like the one that shut down the Colonial Pipeline back in May. The pipeline attack was one of a number of high profile instances of hackers seeking Bitcoin ransoms.

While Gensler didn’t comment on exactly how the SEC planned to help stop these crimes, he did say that the agency would continue to exercise the full extent of its power. “[The SEC] will continue to take our authorities as far as they go,” Gensler said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. A recent U.S. treasury report voiced the same concerns as Gensler, saying cryptocurrency “poses a significant detection problem by facilitating illegal activity broadly including tax evasion.”

[READ MORE]: Cryptocurrency Crime Is Booming. Here’s How to Invest Safely

What Investors Should Know Under the proposed law included in the infrastructure bill, companies that facilitate crypto trades would be required to report tax information about those trades to the IRS (just as brokers of traditional investments like stocks do) starting in the 2024 tax season. “The bill is generally investor-friendly because it makes crypto tax compliance easier for investors,” says Shehan Chandrasekera, CPA, head of tax strategy at CoinTracker.io, a crypto tax software company. “This is because if the bill passes, exchanges will have to issue 1099-B tax forms with cost basis information to investors.”

That means the exchange would provide a record of taxable events on the platform, like how much your Bitcoin was worth when you bought it and when you sell it back into U.S. dollars. Today, only some exchanges report this info. “This will significantly reduce the crypto tax filing burden,” Chandrasekera says. It’s already important to keep your own records of any capital gains or losses on your crypto trades, which you should report on your federal tax returns. But this regulation would make it even more essential, since the IRS would more easily be able to find any cases of tax evasion related to crypto. Stablecoin Regulation Gensler also hinted Tuesday that increased stablecoin regulation could help with the cryptocurrency crime problem, as “the majority of what happens [on cryptocurrency exchanges and platforms] is cryptocurrency to cryptocurrency.” Gensler says that by bypassing the involvement of U.S. dollars in direct crypto-to-crypto trades, bad actors may be more able to evade public policy measures and other sanctions aimed at preventing money laundering or ensuring tax compliance.

PRO TIP

Apart from federal regulation, there have been many state-specific cryptocurrency legislations passed. Know what regulations apply in your state. Stablecoins are a type of cryptocurrency pegged to an existing currency, like USDT (Tether). USDT is tied to the price of the U.S. dollar, so its value is constantly $1. And the SEC isn’t the only agency that’s taken interest. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has spoken about stablecoin regulation recently, too, while testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services earlier this month. Powell said that if stablecoins are going to be a “significant” part of the payments universe, “we need an appropriate regulatory framework, which we frankly don’t have.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen echoed that sentiment recently, coordinating a meeting with the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets to discuss “the rapid growth of stablecoins, potential uses of stablecoins as a means of payment, and potential risks to end-users, the financial system, and national security,” according to a meeting readout. What Investors Should Know Nearly three-quarters of trading on all crypto trading platforms occurred between a stablecoin and some other token in July, Gensler said. While it’s unclear yet what any regulatory action on stablecoins would look like, any regulation could impact investors who hold or use stablecoins as part of their strategy.

Crypto-to-crypto trades often incur lower fees on many exchanges than buying crypto outright in U.S. dollar-to-cryptocurrency transactions, and stablecoins’ low price volatility makes them a potentially better option for purchases than transferring cash each time. But for investors, they’re not as great a store of value as more volatile cryptos like Bitcoin. If you’re investing in crypto looking for long-term growth, experts recommend sticking with more established coins like Bitcoin or Ethereum. In anticipation of any coming guidance, you should also make sure to choose a cryptocurrency exchange that maintains compliance with evolving federal and state regulators in the United States. This includes many established, high-volume U.S.-based exchanges, like Coinbase and Gemini. “I only purchase my cryptocurrency assets from regulated brokers at this point, because we have the luxury of doing so. Of course in other countries they don’t have it, but we do,” says Danial.

Cryptocurrency ETFs While the government considers how to make it harder to use cryptocurrency for illicit activities and tax evasion, there is still no way for Americans to buy into crypto using more traditional investment accounts like those at a Fidelity or a Vanguard. The SEC has yet to approve a cryptocurrency ETF (exchange-traded fund) — despite several proposed funds from different institutions and exchanges —  but Gensler revealed on Tuesday that it may be coming. “We do it in the equity market, we do it in the bond markets, people might want it here,” Gensler said. While acknowledging there have already been SEC filings for ETFs, “I anticipate we’ll have some new ones under what’s called the Investment Companies Act — and when combined with other federal laws, the law provides significant investor protections,” he says. The Investing Companies Act requires companies, including mutual funds, to disclose information about their finances and investments on a “regular basis,” according to the SEC.

Until an ETF gets approved, “there’s not really a way to buy a security that closely tracks the price of a specific cryptocurrency,” says Jeremy Schneider, the personal finance expert behind Personal Finance Club. That means the only way for investors to really do that is to buy coins directly from an exchange. While there has been some confusion about whether cryptocurrencies are securities (and under SEC regulation), Gensler made clear that every initial coin offering (ICO) he has seen is a security: “Generally, folks buying these tokens are anticipating profits, and there’s a small group of entrepreneurs and technologists standing up and nurturing the projects … I believe we have a crypto market now where many tokens may be unregistered securities, without required disclosures or market oversight.” But Gensler reiterated that the SEC has jurisdiction, and “our federal securities laws apply.”

Cryptocurrency ETFs are not yet available in the U.S., but may offer a way for investors to get into cryptocurrency without having to buy directly from an exchange in the future. If you’re interested in crypto, these funds could help you diversify your holdings across different coins, like a conventional ETF or index fund. But they’re still just as speculative as any crypto investment; if you’re waiting for a Bitcoin ETF because you’re unwilling to take on the risk, you may want to reconsider whether crypto belongs in your portfolio at all. In the meantime, Gensler’s stance that every ICO is a security could mean investors should look to the SEC for protections as regulation becomes more concrete.

Biden Administration Grants Automatic Student Loan Forgiveness To 325,000 Permanently Disabled Borrowers

The Biden administration moved Thursday (Aug. 19, 2021)  to grant 325,000 people who are severely disabled automatic federal student loan forgiveness to the tune of $5.8 billion, setting the stage for reforms to a process that is widely criticized as cumbersome and onerous. “The Department of Education is evolving practices to make sure that we’re keeping the borrowers first and that we’re providing relief without having them jump through hoops,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on a call with reporters Thursday.  “I’ve heard from borrowers over the last six months that the processes are too difficult so we’re simplifying it.”

By law, anyone who is declared by a physician, the Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs to be totally and permanently disabled is eligible to have their federal student loans discharged. The benefit has never been widely publicized, so few have taken advantage. And when they do, many are met with tedious paperwork and requirements. There is a three-year monitoring period in which borrowers must submit annual documentation verifying their income does not exceed the poverty line. The requirement routinely trips up people who wind up having their loans reinstated. To ease the burden, the Biden administration in March waived the paperwork requirement during the coronavirus pandemic, retroactive to March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency.

On Thursday, Cardona said the Education Department will indefinitely extend the income waiver. The department will also pursue the elimination of the requirement altogether through the negotiated rulemaking process in October. The federal agency is proposing new rules to provide automatic disability discharges for anyone identified as eligible through data matching initiatives with Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

In 2016, the Education Department partnered with the two other agencies to identify eligible borrowers. While the department removed the application requirement in 2019 for veterans, it did not do the same for people identified through the SSA match. Only half of the people identified through the SSA match have received the discharge, according to the Education Department. A bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers, including Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, had urged Trump to automatically discharge the debt, much like his administration had done in 2019 for permanently disabled veterans. But the Trump administration failed to act, while hundreds of thousands of disabled borrowers defaulted on their loans.

A Freedom of Information Act request made by the D.C.-based nonprofit National Student Legal Defense Network found over 517,000 individuals as of May had not received relief. Asked about the discrepancy between the May figure and the 325,000 announced Thursday, Ben Miller, a senior adviser at the Education Department, said the older figure likely includes duplicates that may be showing up in multiple matches. He assured the latest figure accounts for all of the borrowers currently on the books.

“Obviously, we anticipate there will be new matches each quarter,” Miller said. “This is not just a one-time action.” Eligible borrowers will receive notice of their approved discharge in September and the department expects cancellation will occur by the end of the year. People who wish to opt-out of forgiveness will be given the opportunity. While borrowers will not be subject to federal income taxes on the canceled debt, they may encounter state taxes. Consumer groups had urged the Biden administration to automatically discharge the federal student loans of eligible borrowers, rather than require them to submit an application for debt forgiveness. Many were disappointed when the Education Department announced the income waiver in March without automating the process. Advocates praised the administration Thursday for stepping up.

“This is a life-altering announcement for hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers with disabilities,” Dan Zibel, chief counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network. “Today’s step is another indication that the Department is listening to the voices of student loan borrowers.”

TCS Attrition Rate, 8.63%, Lowest Among IT Giants

TCS reported that its employee headcount crossed the 500,000-mark in the quarter ending June 2021, even though close to 43,000 people left the IT major.Indian IT major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) reported an 8.6% attrition in the past year, in its results for the first quarter of the 2021-22 financial year.

According to the report, it rose from 7.2% in the previous quarter—ending on March 31, 2021 – even the attrition rate is pegged to be the lowest in the county. IT companies such as Accenture announced their attrition rate for the first quarter of 2021-22 fiscal at 17% against 11% in the year-ago quarter., while Infosys and Wipro’s attrition rates were reported to be 15.2% and 12.1% in the fourth quarter of 2020-21 financial year.

The trend in employee attrition is a concern the IT firms were plagued by. However, TCS reported that its employee headcount crossed the 500,000-mark in the quarter ending June 2021, when the company hit a total workforce of 509,058. In July, TCS announced a 29% rise year-on-year in quarterly profit, powered by higher demand from businesses ramping up digital services during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic crisis, Hindustan Times’ sister publication LiveMint reported. The IT giant’s net profit rose to ₹9,008 crore, between April and June, up from ₹7,008 crore a year earlier, while its revenue from operations jumped 18.5% to ₹45,411 crore.

Even as some of the big IT firms were expecting the attrition rate to inch up in the financial quarters to come, riding on the back of a talent war, outgoing employees make direct and indirect impacts on a company and its resources. Industry experts often pointed out that attrition is an important human resources metric that indicates a lot about the direction of a company’s business, as well as the possible problems that need the attention of the HR managers.

One of the major causes behind the strong attrition at TCS is its remuneration, said a Kolkata-based tech analyst who recently left TCS for another major IT firm. “Compared to the industry standards, the remuneration is less when compared with lateral recruits,” the techie told HT, adding, “The effort by TCS to retain an employee after they put in their papers do cut it. It often offers an onsite opportunity to an employee in a bid to retain them but such opportunities do not work, especially when an employee has made up their mind to leave over remuneration concerns, as people want to earn a standard salary staying home.”

Senate’s $3.5 Trillion Budget Proposal Has Plan for Pathway to Citizenship

Democrats have passed a $3.5 trillion framework for bolstering family services, health, and environment programs through the Senate early Aug. 11, advancing President Joe Biden’s expansive vision for reshaping federal priorities just hours after handing him a companion triumph on a hefty infrastructure package, according to the Associated Press.

Lawmakers approved Democrats’ budget resolution on a party-line 50-49 vote, a crucial step for a president and party set on training the government’s fiscal might at assisting families, creating jobs and fighting climate change. Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations would pay for much of it. Passage came despite an avalanche of Republican amendments intended to make their rivals pay a price in next year’s elections for control of Congress.

House leaders announced their chamber will return from summer recess in two weeks to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next decade. Final congressional approval, which seems certain, would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the outline’s detailed spending and tax changes from a Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., once a progressive voice in Congress’ wilderness and now a national figure wielding legislative clout, said the measure would help children, families, the elderly and working people — and more.

The Senate turned to the budget minutes after it approved the other big chunk of Biden’s objectives, a compromise $1 trillion bundle of transportation, water, broadband and other infrastructure projects. That measure, passed 69-30 with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell among the 19 Republicans backing it, also needs House approval.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., assured progressives that Congress will pursue sweeping initiatives going beyond the infrastructure compromise. The budget blueprint envisions creating new programs including tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave and a Civilian Climate Corps whose workers would tackle environmental projects.

Millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally would have a new chance for citizenship, and there would be financial incentives for states to adopt more labor-friendly laws. According to thehill.com, the budget resolution package asks lawmakers to chart a pathway to citizenship for millions of people while investing in border security.

The package does not specify how many people or which groups would be covered by the legislation, instead directing the committee to provide “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants.” A summary of the bill also states it will provide green cards “to millions of immigrant workers and families.”

House Democrats have floated a plan that would cover not only Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children but also migrant farmworkers, workers deemed essential during the pandemic and those who already hold Temporary Protected Status after being unable to return to their countries, said thehill.com report. In all, Democrats could make around 10 million people eligible for a path to citizenship.

As India Turns 75, Prime Minister Modi Unveils $1.35 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

India will soon launch a $1.35 trillion national infrastructure plan that will boost the country’s economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on August 15 as part of the Independence Day celebrations.

Soon after he unfurled the national flag to mark nation’s 75th Independence Day at the historic Red Fort here, Modi addressed the nation, saying the infrastructure plan will create job opportunities for millions of Indian youth. “It will help local manufacturers turn globally competitive and also develop possibilities of new future economic zones in the country,” he said.

India’s economy, pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, contracted 7.3% in the fiscal year that ended in March. Economists fear there will be no rebound similar to the ones seen in the U.S. and other major economies.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi also listed his government’s achievements since 2014 and hailed India’s coronavirus vaccination campaign. “We are proud that we didn’t have to depend on any other country for COVID-19 vaccines. Imagine what would have happened if India didn’t have its own vaccine,” he said.

India has given more than 500 million doses of vaccines but its vaccination drive has been marred by its slow pace. About 11% of eligible adult Indians have been fully vaccinated so far.

Modi also said India was committed to meeting targets for the reduction of its carbon footprint. He said his government would invest more in electric mobility, solar energy and “green hydrogen” — which does not emit carbon dioxide — as part of its goal to make India energy independent by 2047.

Modi began his speech by praising India’s athletes who took part in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. India won one gold, two silver and four bronze medals at the games.

On Saturday, Modi announced that Aug. 14 will be observed as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.

In his eighth address to the nation on Independence Day since 2014, Modi said, “There is no dearth of political will in taking up reforms. Today, the world can see that there is no dearth of political will in India. The world is a witness to how India is writing a new chapter of governance,” the prime minister said.

During his nearly one and half hours speech, Modi made several important announcements like the National Hydrogen Mission, Rs 100 lakh crore PM Gati Shakti Infrastructure to make a foundation for holistic infrastructure and admission for girls in ‘Sainik Schools’.

“We are set to present the PM Gati Shakti’s National Master Plan in the near future which will make a foundation for holistic approach in infrastructure construction. During the 75 weeks of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, new 75 Vande Bharat Express trains will be launched and will connect every corner of the country,” he said.

Talking about Jammu and Kashmir, Modi said that the Delimitation Commission has been formed in J&K and the government is making preparations for Vidhan Sabha elections. “Ladakh, too, is walking its road towards development. On one hand, Ladakh is witnessing the creation of modern infrastructure, while on the other, ‘Sindhu Central University’ is going to make Ladakh a center of higher education,” he said.

In a veiled attack on Pakistan and China, Modi said, “In the post-pandemic time, world will see a new world order with two major challenges – terrorism and expansionism – and India is fighting and effectively responding to both.

“Talking about infrastructure, Modi said, “From new waterways to connecting new places through sea-planes, work is undergoing at rapid speed. Indian Railways, too, is undergoing a change to modernize itself. It is our collective responsibility that we walk ahead in the 75th year of India’s Independence believing in India’s abilities. We have to work together on next-gen infrastructure, world class manufacturing, connecting-edge innovations and new age technology.”

Talking about the agriculture sector, the prime mnister said, “In the next few years, we will have to increase the collective power of India’s small farmers. We have to provide them with new facilities. They must become the nation’s pride.

“It is time we apply scientific research and suggestions in our agriculture sector. We need to reap all its benefits. It will not just provide food security to the nation, but will also increase food production. In this decade, we will have to work dedicatedly to provide a new economy in rural India. Today, we are witnessing our villages getting transformed,” he said.

Modi also listed several key initiatives of his government like the ‘Har Ghar Jal’ Mission in which over 4.5 crore families started receiving piped water within two years of launch of programs.

“In the last seven years, crores of poor have received benefits of several initiatives. The needy have benefited from Ujjwala to Ayushman Bharat and others…Today we see our villages changing rapidly. In the past few years, facilities like road, electricity have reached villages. Today the optical fiber network is providing the power of data to villages,” he said.

In his speech, Modi mentioned that malnutrition has been a barrier in the development of poor women and poor children. “We have, thus, decided to give nutrient-added rice to the poor. By 2024, from ration shops to mid-day meals, all rice being provided to the poor will be fortified,” he said.

The prime minister also lauded the efforts of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, cleaning workers, and vaccine makers for diligently serving people during the Covid pandemic.

India needs to “hand hold” the disadvantaged sections of society, PM Narendra Modi said during his Independence Day address delivered from the Red Fort on Sunday, highlighting the government’s decision to extend OBC reservations in medical colleges through the all-India quota system and the new constitutional amendment that empowers states to identify OBC beneficiaries.

“We need to provide hand holding to the backward categories… Along with the concern of fulfilling basic needs, reservation is being ensured for Dalits, backward classes, Adivasis and the poor from general category,” he said. “By formulating a law in Parliament, the right to make their own list of OBCs has been given to the states,” he said.

India needs to achieve “saturation”, or 100% coverage, on welfare programs such as bank accounts for the poor, health cover under Ayushman Bharat and Ujjwala scheme.

Forbes’ 2021 List Of America’s Richest Self-Made Women Has 5 Of Indian Origin

Five Indian American women have been featured on the 2021 Forbes list of America’s Richest Self-made Women, which was released on August 5. The magazine noted that the fortunes of the nation’s richest self-made women soared 31% in the seventh annual ranking to $118 billion, amid a stock market boom.

A record 26 are now billionaires, including pop star mogul Rihanna and 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki. The Indian Americans on the list include Neha Narkhede, co-founder and former chief technology officer of Confluent; PepsiCo’s former chair and CEO Indra Nooyi; Neerja Sethi, co-founder of Syntel; Reshma Shetty, co-founder of Gingko Bioworks; and Jayshree Ullal, president and CEO of Arista Networks.

Two-thirds of the 100 individuals founded or cofounded a company, Forbes said, 26 are CEOs and 15 are newcomers. The cutoff to make the ranks climbed to $225 million, up from $150 million last year.

Following are the Indian American women on the list, in order of ranking: Jayshree Ullal, who placed 16th on the list, has been president and CEO of Arista Networks, a computer networking firm, since 2008, said Forbes, with a net worth of $1.7 billion. She joined the board of directors of Snowflake, a cloud computing company that went public in September 2020. Ullal owns about 5% of Arista’s stock, some of which is earmarked for her two children, niece and nephew.

Coming in at the 26th place is Neerja Sethi, with a net worth of $1 billion. Sethi cofounded IT consulting and outsourcing firm Syntel with her husband Bharat Desai in 1980 in their apartment in Troy, Michigan, said Forbes. The French IT firm Atos SE bought Syntel for $3.4 billion in October 2018, and Sethi got an estimated $510 million for her stake. Sethi, who had served as an executive at Syntel since 1980, did not join Atos after the acquisition.

Neha Narkhede placed 29th on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $925 million. She is cofounder and former chief technology officer of cloud company Confluent. In 2014, said Forbes, she and two LinkedIn colleagues left to found Confluent, which helps organizations process large amounts of data on Apache Kafka. Having grown up in Pune, Narkhede studied computer science at Georgia Tech and now advises numerous technology startups.

Placing 39th on the list is Reshma Shetty, with a net worth of $750 million. She cofounded Gingko Bioworks, a synthetic biotechnology company, in 2009 with four others, including her husband Barry Canton. According to Forbes, Shetty received a Ph.D. in biological engineering at MIT, where she met Ginkgo Bioworks’ other cofounders.

Ginkgo, named after a dinosaur-era tree, uses data analytics and robotics to speed up the process of discovering and making new organisms. As Covid-19 spread, the company opened its Boston facilities for research into the coronavirus and to ramp up testing for the disease.

PepsiCo’s former chair and CEO Indra Nooyi placed at number 91 on the list, with a net worth of $290 million. She retired in 2019 after 24 years with the company, half of which she spent in the top job. Forbes noted that her fortune stems from stock she was granted while working at PepsiCo. Nooyi joined the board of Amazon in 2019.

India Day Parade in New York Throws Light On Sympathizers of Farmer’s Issue in India

The India Day Parade held on August 8, 2021 by a local group in Hicksville in Long Island, New York, brought to the fore the issue of the Indian Farmers and their ongoing struggle.  Hundreds of Indian Overseas Congress USA members joined by others raised the issue of the Farmer’s agitation in Delhi in the parade. It should be recalled that the Indian government had, essentially in 2020, hastily passed unfair legislation on the marketing of crops that the farmers did not ask for and which would deter them from making a livelihood in marketing their products under the newly legislated conditions.

 Since the issue relating to the Farmer’s plight was central to the concerns of the Indian diaspora which had gathered, this prohibition would prevent them from venting their sentiments and showing support to the cause of the farmers, as a result of which it left them no choice but to stay put at the location and voice their bitter disappointment over the unfair and undemocratic imposition of conditions which prevented them from participating in celebrating the joyous occasion of the Independence Day of India while at the same time expressing serious concern on the inaction of the sitting government to resolve the issue.

“Indian Overseas Congress, USA threw its support behind the cause of the protesting farmers in India and objected to the heavy-handed approach of the India Day Parade organizers in Long Island to stifle dissent,” said President Mohinder Singh Gilzian. “This celebration is about freedom, and it is a fundamental right of people to express one’s opinion without fear of repercussions.”

“The Government of India’s stonewalling to the concerns of the farmers is not what one expects from a true democracy,” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the IOCUSA. ” the current government is only interested in protecting the interests of the crony capitalists” Mr. Abraham added.

Secretary-General Harbachan Singh pointed out that after almost ten months of a peaceful demonstration by the farmers in a gathering which is said to be so large and prolonged that it broke not only records in India’s recent history but perhaps the world – way more than 600 people had also lost their lives.  Both the demonstrators and their families back home are not only suffering both physically and economically under the Covid-19 pandemic but also acutely enduring the record-breaking severe cold, floods and burning hot weather conditions.”

Chants to the Prime Minister to settle the issues of the farmers were loud and incessant.  Even the heavy downpour of rain could not drown out their thunderous voices and their strong punches into the air.  At the same time, solemn allegiance to Mother India was repeatedly orchestrated by all with fervent respect and love.  Chairman of Punjab Chapter Satish Sharma, President of Punjab Chapter, Gurmit S. Gill, President of Haryana Chapter Amar Singh Gulshan, President of Kerala Chapter Ms. Leela Merat, and other IOCUSA leaders also addressed the gathering.

Biden’s New Policy Will Ensure 50% Of Vehicles Sold In US By 2030 Are Electric

President Biden announced on August 5th a multistep strategy aimed at rapidly shifting Americans from gasoline-powered cars and trucks toward electric vehicles — a central part of his plan to reduce the pollution that is heating the planet.  The new plan targets that half of vehicles sold in the country by 2030 will be battery electric, fuel-cell electric or plug-in hybrid.

Biden signed the executive order at the White House alongside representatives from Ford, GM and Stellantis, and members of the United Auto Workers Union. The automakers are supporting Biden’s new target, announcing their “shared aspiration” that 40-50% of their cars sold by 2030 to be electric vehicles, according to a joint statement from the three automakers.

Speaking from the White House South Lawn in front of four electric vehicles, Biden said the future of America’s car manufacturing “is electric and there’s no turning back. The question is whether we’ll lead or fall behind in the race for the future,” the president added. Throughout Biden’s remarks, he emphasized that a move toward electric vehicles should come with an assurance that those vehicles and the batteries powering them should be made in the US and with union workers.

“There’s a vision of the future that is now beginning to happen, a future of the automobile industry that is electric — battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, fuel cell electric,” said Mr. Biden, who announced the plan from the South Lawn of the White House before an array of parked electric vehicles, including the Ford F150 Lightning, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and a Jeep Wrangler. “The question is whether we’ll lead or fall behind in the future.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation also announced Thursday they are reversing a Trump-era rollback of fuel emissions standards. The newly proposed standards from the agencies for light-duty vehicles will be 10% more stringent than the Trump-era rules for 2023 model year vehicles, then becoming 5% more stringent each year through 2026 model year vehicles.

The proposed emissions standard for mileage year 2026 is 52 miles per gallon, up from 43.3 miles per gallon under the Trump administration, which is the current mileage standard. The new standard is also up from 50.8 miles per gallon under the Obama administration rules for mileage year 2026.

The Biden administration’s proposed standard would translate to a label value — what the consumer would see on a new car sticker — of 38.2 mpg. The EPA estimates that implementing these standards would avoid 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050.

With the impacts of a warming planet seen in record droughts, deadly heat waves, floods and wildfires around the globe, scientists say that simply restoring Obama-era climate controls will not be enough.

The agencies also announced a separate set of regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for heavy-duty trucks. The first rulemaking process for trucks is expected to be finalized next year, and will apply to heavy duty vehicles starting with the 2027 mileage year, according to the EPA.

A rapid transition to electric cars and trucks faces several challenges. Experts say it will not be possible for electric vehicles to go from niche to mainstream without making electric charging stations as ubiquitous as corner gas stations. And while labor leaders attended the White House event and referred to Mr. Biden as “brother,” they remain concerned about a wholesale shift to electric vehicles, which require fewer workers to assemble.

Speaking on Wednesday night, a senior administration official echoed Biden’s comments.  “This is a paradigm shift,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday. “What we’re hearing across the board is a consensus about the direction where this industry is going, and a coming together around the recognition that this is the moment of truth, not just for climate action for economic action as well.”

Biden has asked Congress for $174 billion to create 500,000 charging stations. An infrastructure bill pending in the Senate includes just $7.5 billion. However, it also provides $73 billion to expand and update the electricity grid, an essential step for carrying power to new auto charging stations. The International Council on Clean Transportation, a research organization, concluded that the nation would need 2.4 million electric vehicle charging stations by 2030 — up from 216,000 in 2020 — if about 36 percent of new car sales were electric.

A second bill, which could move through Congress this fall, could include far more spending on electric vehicles, consumer tax incentives and research. Neither proposal is guaranteed to pass in the closely divided Congress.

There are concerns that ome environmental advocates and lawmakers fear car companies could skirt the standards with loopholes — including allowances for EV makers like Tesla to sell credits to companies that sell gas-guzzling cars, thereby allowing them to meet the standards without electrifying their fleets.  “We must guard against the inclusion of legacy loopholes, which may allow for even lower greenhouse gas emissions standards than before,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said in a statement. “We know the highest standards possible are economically feasible and technologically achievable because the automotive industry is already installing them.”

“President Biden has called global warming an existential threat, but these standards won’t protect us,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “The only reason automakers have ever cut pollution is because strong rules forced them to. And these rules won’t.”

The youth climate advocacy group Sunrise Movement sharply criticized Biden’s electric vehicles target, saying it’s not sufficient enough to combat the climate crisis. “Biden cannot think of himself as the climate president with a 50% electric vehicles goal,” Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “FDR didn’t set a goal to half win the war, and JFK didn’t set a goal to get halfway to the moon. If we are still selling gas cars in 2030, they’ll be on the road for another 10, 15, 20 years — long after his presidency and well into our already unstable futures.”

Rihanna, A Billionaire, Is the Richest Female Musician

It’s official! Forbes has named Rihanna a billionaire, making her the richest female musician and the second wealthiest woman entertainer in the world. The singer, whose real name is Robyn Fenty, is now second only to Oprah in wealth with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion. Not too shabby!

It was her music that first made her a household name, but according to Forbes, the majority of Rihanna’s net worth comes from her cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty. Rihanna owns 50 percent of the beauty company, which she launched in 2017. Fenty immediately set itself apart by prioritizing inclusivity; it launched with 40 shades of foundation for different skin tones and that number has since grown to 50.

Fenty Beauty was launched in partnership with luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which is run by the world’s richest person, Bernard Arnault. Upon its launch, Rihanna described Fenty Beauty as her “passion project.” Now, Forbes estimates that a whopping $1.4 billion out of her $1.7 billion fortune comes from the brand. The rest of Rihanna’s net worth is from her lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, and the money she’s earned as a singer and actress.

Fans, including Rihanna’s peers, are celebrating this milestone moment. “[A] BILLI-ON here, a BILLI-ON there- Little Bajan bih w/ green [eyes] – dat bag is a different size,” Nicki Minaj wrote in an Instagram Story.

Fans are eagerly awaiting Rihanna’s next album, which is rumored to be in the reggae genre. Something they can look forward to that’ll arrive far more quickly is the star’s Met Gala look. It’s been confirmed that she’s on the guest list for the star-studded benefit, which is scheduled for next month. Looks like she’ll be one of the richest people at the party.

Was US Money Used To Fund Risky Research Lab In China That Supposedly Is The Origin Of Coronavirus?

As the debate continues over the origins of the coronavirus, a heated political battle is taking place over virus research carried out in China using US funds. It’s linked to the unproven theory that the virus could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where it was first detected.

A report released by Republican lawmakers cites “ample evidence” that the lab was working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and calls for a bipartisan investigation into its origins.

Republican Senator Rand Paul also alleges that US money was used to fund research there that made some viruses more infectious and more deadly, a process known as “gain-of-function”.

But this has been firmly rejected by Dr Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases chief. What is ‘gain-of-function’ research? “Gain-of-function” is when an organism develops new abilities (or “functions”).

This can happen in nature, or it can be achieved in a lab, when scientists modify the genetic code or place organisms in different environments, to change them in some way.

For example, this might involve scientists trying to create drought-resistant plants or modify disease vectors in mosquitoes to make them less likely to pass on infections.

With viruses that could pose a risk to human health, it means developing viruses that are potentially more transmissible and dangerous.

Scientists justify the potential risks by saying the research can help prepare for future outbreaks and pandemics by understanding how viruses evolve, and therefore develop better treatments and vaccines.

Did the US fund virus research in China?

Yes, it did contribute some funds. Dr. Fauci, as well as being an adviser to President Biden, is the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This body did give money to an organization that collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That organization – the US-based Eco Health Alliance – was awarded a grant in 2014 to look into possible coronaviruses from bats.

Eco Health received $3.7m from the NIH, $600,000 of which was given to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In 2019, its project was renewed for another five years, but then pulled by the Trump administration in April 2020 following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, Dr Fauci stated that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.

Senator Rand Paul asked Dr Fauci if he wanted to retract that statement, saying: “As you are aware it is a crime to lie to Congress.” Senator Paul believes the research did qualify as “gain-of-function” research, and referred to two academic papers by the Chinese institute, one from 2015 (written together with the University of North Carolina), and another from 2017. One prominent scientist supporting this view – and quoted by Senator Paul – is Prof Richard Ebright of Rutgers University.

He told the BBC that the research in both papers showed that new viruses (that did not already exist naturally) were created, and these “risked creating new potential pathogens” that were more infectious. “The research in both papers was gain-of-function research”, he said.

He added that it met the official definition of such research outlined in 2014 when the US government halted funding for such activities due to biosafety concerns. The funding was paused to allow a new framework to be drawn up for such research.

Why does Dr Fauci reject this charge?

Dr Fauci told the Senate hearing the research in question “has been evaluated multiple times by qualified people to not fall under the gain-of-function definition”. He also said it was “molecularly impossible” for these viruses to have resulted in the coronavirus, although he did not elaborate.

The NIH and Eco Health Alliance have also rejected suggestions they supported or funded “gain-of-function” research in China. They say they funded a project to examine “at the molecular level” newly-discovered bat viruses and their spike proteins (which help the virus bind to living cells) “without affecting the environment or development or physiological state of the organism”.

One of the US scientists who collaborated on the 2015 research on bat viruses with the Wuhan institute, Dr Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina, gave a detailed statement to the Washington Post.

He said the work they did was reviewed by both the NIH and the university’s own biosafety committee “for potential of gain-of-function research and were deemed not to be gain-of-function”. He also says that none of the viruses which were the subject of the 2015 study are related to Sars-Cov-2, which caused the pandemic in 2020.

India Has 52,391 Startups And 53 Unicorns

India’s startup ecosystem, which is widely considered as the third largest globally, has a total of 52,391 recognised entities as of July 14, 2021, Parliament was informed last week. The startups are recognized by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and as of July 14, more than 5.7 lakh jobs have been reported by more than 50,000 startups, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Som Parkash, told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

As per industry estimates, there are 53 unicorns currently in India, with a tentative valuation of Rs. 1.4 lakh crore, he said, adding that valuation of a company is a market driven exercise and the data of individual companies is not maintained by the DPIIT.

He said that the Startup India initiative is a flagship initiative of the Centre which aims to build a strong ecosystem for nurturing innovation and startups in the country. A 19-point Startup India Action Plan was launched in January 2016 which paved the way for the introduction of a number of policy initiatives to build a strong, conducive, growth-oriented environment for Indian startups.

The Prime Minister unveiled Startup India: The Way Ahead at 5 years celebration of Startup India on January 16, 2021 which includes actionable plans for promotion of ease of doing business for startups, greater role of technology in executing various reforms, building capacities of stakeholders and enabling a digital Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the Minister added. (IANS)

Immunovant Receives $200 Million Strategic Investment from Roivant Sciences Proceeds will fund continued development of IMVT-1401 in multiple indications

Immunovant, Inc. (Nasdaq: IMVT), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on enabling normal lives for people with autoimmune diseases, today announced that it has received a $200 million strategic investment from Roivant Sciences. Immunovant intends to use the proceeds from this investment to advance the development of IMVT-1401 in multiple indications.

Roivant has purchased 17,021,276 shares of Immunovant’s common stock at a price of $11.75 per share, which purchase has been approved by a special committee of Immunovant directors not affiliated with Roivant. This represents approximately a 15% premium to Immunovant’s 20 trading day volume weighted average price. After giving effect to the investment, Immunovant has a pro forma cash balance of approximately $600 million and Roivant has increased its ownership stake in Immunovant from 57.5% to 63.8%, based on Immunovant’s cash balance and share count as of March 31, 2021.

“We are excited to announce this significant investment by Roivant, which will expedite our development of IMVT-1401 for a wide range of autoimmune disorders,” said Dr. Pete Salzmann, Chief Executive Officer of Immunovant. “Over the next 12 months, we plan to initiate a pivotal trial for myasthenia gravis, resume our trials in WAIHA and TED and initiate at least two additional clinical studies, including another pivotal trial in 2022.”

“Roivant and Immunovant explored a range of possible transactions over the past few months, including a potential acquisition by Roivant of the minority interest in Immunovant, and ultimately agreed on this significant investment in order to support a robust development plan for IMVT-1401 and increase our stake in the company,” said Matt Gline, Chief Executive Officer of Roivant Sciences. “We are incredibly excited about the prospects for IMVT-1401, and we are eager to support Immunovant through this investment. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Dr. Salzmann and the Immunovant management team to help develop IMVT-1401 to maximize benefit for patients with high levels of unmet medical need.”

Immunovant is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on enabling normal lives for patients with autoimmune diseases. Immunovant is developing IMVT-1401, a novel, fully human anti-FcRn monoclonal antibody, as a subcutaneous injection for the treatment of autoimmune diseases mediated by pathogenic IgG antibodies. For more information, visit www.immunovant.com.

Roivant’s mission is to improve the delivery of healthcare to patients by treating every inefficiency as an opportunity. Roivant develops transformative medicines faster by building technologies and developing talent in creative ways, leveraging the Roivant platform to launch ‘Vants’ – nimble and focused biopharmaceutical and health technology companies. For more information, visit www.roivant.com.

Elon Musk Blames India’s High Import Duties As A Challenge To Bring Tesla

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that its electric vehicle (EV) company wants to launch cars in India, but the country’s import duties on EVs are “highest in the world by far”. Replying to an Indian YouTuber on Twitter, who asked him to launch Tesla cars ASAP in India, Musk blamed high import rates in the country.

“We want to do so, but import duties are the highest in the world by far of any large country!” he wrote. “Moreover, clean energy vehicles are treated the same as diesel or petrol, which does not seem entirely consistent with the climate goals of India,” he added.

Last year, a report said that India has taken a slew of measures to promote the use of electric cars in the country. The government slashed Goods and Services Tax (GST) on electric vehicles to five per cent from earlier 12 per cent but to protect domestic automakers, it levies 125 per cent duty on imported vehicles.

“I’m told import duties are extremely high (up to 100 per cent), even for electric cars. This would make our cars unaffordable,” Musk earlier said while responding to a tweet from an Indian follower.

Close on the heels of Union Budget providing tax relief for buying electric vehicles, the GST Council in its meeting last year in July cut the tax on electric vehicles (EV) from 12 per cent to 5 per cent, effective August 1, 2019. The twin rate cuts are set to further boost the EV sector. The Budget, last year, had proposed an Income Tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest paid on the loans taken to purchase electric vehicles.

Amazon India Is Shopping To Acquire Inox, Others

In A move aimed at diversifying its entertainment business, Amazon India is learnt to be in discussions with multiple players in the film and media distribution segment, including Mumbai-based movie theatre chain Inox Leisure Ltd, for potentially picking up stakes in them, sources told The Indian Express. With its over-the-top (OTT) content business not growing as fast as the company expected — Amazon India launched its OTT platform Prime Video in 2016 — and with movie theatre chains impacted by lockdowns over the last year-and-a-half, Amazon India is said to be looking at acquiring interest in some of these businesses. Inox, a source said, is a likely candidate.

“After the initial growth of the first six months last year, the OTT content business has not grown as fast as the company expected. There are three to four deals in this space being evaluated currently, including some distressed assets. Amazon India is in advanced talks with some of them,” a source close to the development said. Inox Leisure, one of the largest movie theatre chains in the country with 153 multiplexes and 648 screens, has been hit by the pandemic-induced lockdowns across the country. To a specific query on the issue, a spokesperson for Amazon India said, “We do not comment on speculations about what we may or may not do in future”.

Inox Leisure did not respond to a request for comment. On Monday, the movie exhibition company’s share on the BSE ended trading at Rs 302.90, 1.87% higher than its previous close. Inox Leisure, one of the largest movie theatre chains in the country with 153 multiplexes and 648 screens, has been hit by the pandemic-induced lockdowns across the country. For the year ended March 2021, the company posted a net loss of Rs 257 crore, against a profit of Rs 141 crore for 2019-20 (April-March). Around 40 per cent of Inox Leisure’s screens are present in the western part of the country, followed by north, south and east. As of June 30, Inox Leisure’s promoters held 43.63% stake, while 56.23% is public-owned.

The biggest player in the space, PVR Ltd, reported a net loss of Rs 665.64 crore for 2020-21 as against a profit of Rs 131.04 crore in the previous year. PVR has 176 cinemas and 842 screens across the country. Shares of Inox Leisure were at Rs 328.5 on January 28 and traded in the Rs 305-335 range till March 18, after which it started declining and reached a low of Rs 251 on April 19 — when the second surge of Covid-19 peaked. Shares of PVR followed almost a similar trajectory over the period, trading at levels of Rs 1,450 on January 28, and then slipping to Rs 1,015.25 on April 19. As of Monday, PVR’s scrip ended trading at Rs 1,329.90.

In 2019-20, US-based Amazon is learnt to have invested $1.5 billion in its Indian business, bulk of which was pumped into the e-commerce business. Experts tracking the sector pointed out that a major deal by Amazon in the entertainment space could see the company increasing its focus on this side of its business, away from e-commerce, where the company is battling policy changes and large players such as Walmart-backed Flipkart and Reliance Retail. Last year, Amazon began discussions to acquire ailing US-based theatre chain AMC, but the talks reportedly fell through. “In India, the film exhibition market is quite different from the US because the average revenue generated by movie theatres in the US per customer is much higher than in India,” a Gurgaon-based consultant said.

Americans With Higher Net Worth At Midlife Tend To Live Longer

Newswise — EVANSTON, Ill., — One of the keys to a long life may lie in your net worth. In the first wealth and longevity study to incorporate siblings and twin pair data, researchers from Northwestern University analyzed the midlife net worth of adults (mean age 46.7 years) and their mortality rates 24 years later. They discovered those with greater wealth at midlife tended to live longer.

The researchers used data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project, a longitudinal study on aging. Using data from the first collection wave in 1994-1996 through a censor date of 2018, the researchers used survival models to analyze the association between net worth and longevity. To tease apart factors of genetics and wealth, the full sample was segmented into subsets of siblings and twins. In the full sample of 5,400 adults, higher net worth was associated with lower mortality risk. Within the data set of siblings and twin pairs (n=2,490), they discovered a similar association with a tendency for the sibling or twin with more wealth to live longer than their co-sibling/twin with less. This finding suggests the wealth-longevity connection may be causal, and isn’t simply a reflection of heritable traits or early experiences that cluster in families.

“The within-family association provides strong evidence that an association between wealth accumulation and life expectancy exists, because comparing siblings within the same family to each other controls for all of the life experience and biology that they share,” said corresponding author Eric Finegood, a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. The researchers also considered the possibility that previous health conditions, such as heart disease or cancer, could impact an individual’s ability to accrue wealth due to activity limitations or healthcare costs — possibly confounding any association between wealth and longevity. To address this, they re-analyzed the data using only individuals without cancer or heart disease. However, even within this sub-group of healthy individuals, the within-family association between wealth and longevity remained.

The study’s senior author is Greg Miller, the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. Co-authors of the study include other Northwestern faculty and trainees (Edith Chen, Daniel Mroczek, Alexa Freedman) as well as researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; West Virginia University; Purdue University; and the University of Minnesota. “Far too many American families are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no financial savings to draw on in times of need, said Miller. “At the same time, wealth inequality has skyrocketed. Our results suggest that building wealth is important for health at the individual level, even after accounting for where one starts out in life. So, from a public health perspective, policies that support and protect individuals’ ability to achieve financial security are needed.”

Stocks Tumble As COVID-19 Fears Rise

Stocks are falling sharply Monday as worries sweep from Wall Street to Sydney that the worsening pandemic in hotspots around the world will derail what’s been a strong economic recovery. The S&P 500 was 1.9% lower in morning trading, after setting a record high just a week earlier. In another sign of worry, the yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped close to its lowest level in five months. It sank below 1.20% as investors scrambled for safer places to put their money. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 769 points, or 2.2%, at 33,918, as of 10:17 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 1.7% lower.

Airlines, hotels and stocks of other companies that would get hurt the most by potential COVID-19 restrictions were taking some of the heaviest losses, similar to the early days of the pandemic in February and March 2020. Mall owner Simon Property Group tumbled 7.8%, and cruise operator Carnival lost 7.5%. The drop also circled the world, with several European markets down nearly 3%, on worries new, more infectious variants of the virus are dragging particularly hard on economies where vaccination rates are low. The price of benchmark U.S. crude, meanwhile, sank more than 5% after OPEC and allied nations agreed on Sunday to eventually allow for higher oil production this year.

Experts are saying Indonesia has become a new epicenter for the pandemic as outbreaks worsen across Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, some athletes have tested positive for COVID at Tokyo’s Olympic Village, with the Games due to open Friday. “The more transmissible delta variant is delaying the recovery for the ASEAN economies and pushing them further into the doldrums,” said VenkateswaranLavanya, at Mizuho Bank in Singapore. Even though vaccination rates are higher in the United States and some other developed economies, the tightly connected global economy means hits anywhere can quickly affect others on the other side of the world.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, the vaccine rollout came later than in other developed nations and has stagnated lately. Japan is totally dependent so far on imported vaccines, and just one in five Japanese have been fully vaccinated. Financial markets have been showing signs of increased concerns for a while, but the U.S. stock market had remained largely resilient. The S&P 500 has had just two down weeks in the last eight. The bond market has been louder in its warnings, though. The yield on the 10-year Treasury tends to move with expectations for economic growth and for inflation, and it has been sinking from a perch of roughly 1.75% in March. It was at 1.19% Monday morning, down from 1.29% late Friday.

Analysts and professional investors say a long list of reasons is potentially behind the sharp moves in the bond market, which is seen as more rational and sober than the stock market. But at the heart is the risk the economy may be set to slow sharply from its current, extremely high growth. Besides the new variants of the coronavirus, other risks to the economy include fading pandemic relief efforts from the U.S. government and a Federal Reserve that looks set to begin paring back its assistance for markets later this year.

Worries about a possible sharp slowdown have particularly hurt stocks whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy. Stocks of smaller companies, for example, have been scuffling since hitting a peak in March even though many reports on the economy still show it’s growing at a very healthy rate. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks slumped 2.3% Monday, outpacing losses for their larger rivals on Wall Street. The selling pressure was widespread, with more than 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 lower. Even Big Tech stocks were falling, with Apple down 3.1% and Mircosoft 1.5% lower. During earlier hiccups for the stock market, investors would often big up such stocks further on expectations they will continue to grow almost regardless of the economy’s strength.

Among the few gainers on Wall Street were potential winners of a return to a stay-at-home economy. Clorox rose 1.2%, and Campbell Soup gained 1%. In Europe, Germany’s DAX lost 2.9%, and France’s CAC 40 fell 2.9%. The FTSE 100 in London slumped 2.6%. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 1.3%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.8%, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 1%. Australian stocks sank 0.9%.

10% Of Global Population Were Undernourished During Covid

Nearly one tenth of the global population, between 720 million people and 811 million, were undernourished last year, according to a UN report. Global hunger levels have skyrocketed because of conflict, climate change and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; and one in five children around the world is stunted, said the report titled, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021’ released on Monday. New data that represents the first comprehensive global assessment of food insecurity carried out since the pandemic began, indicates that the number of people affected by chronic hunger in 2020, rose by more than in the previous five years combined, Xinhua news agency reported.

Reversing this situation will likely take years if not decades, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Health Organization and Unicef. “The pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of those agencies wrote in this year’s report. Some 418 million of the undernourished people last year were in Asia and 282 million were in Africa, according to the report.

Globally, 2.4 billion people did not have access to sufficiently nutritious food in 2020 – an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year. The report also highlights how climate change has left communities in developing countries most exposed to hunger – despite the fact that they contribute little to global CO2 emissions. These poorer nations are also the least prepared to withstand or respond to climate change, said WFP’s Gernot Laganda, who added that weather-related shocks and stresses were “driving hunger like never before”.

This suggests that “it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honor its pledge to end hunger by 2030”, the agencies said in a statement, in a call for food production to be more inclusive, efficient, resilient and sustainable. Children’s healthy development has suffered too, with more than 149 million under-fives affected by stunting and 370 million missing out on school meals in 2020, because of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. Today, 150 million youngsters still do not have access to a school lunch, said WFP, which urged countries to restore these programs and put in place “even better (ones) that give children and communities a future”.

“The (report) highlights a devastating reality: the path to Zero Hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and Covid-19,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. Children’s future potential “is being destroyed by hunger”, he insisted. “The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it’s too late.” In September, the UN will convene a Food Systems Summit with the objective of launching bold new actions to build healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems around the world. In the lead-up to this pivotal event, the UN is inviting stakeholders from all sectors, across all food systems, to get involved.

This report presents the first global assessment of food insecurity and malnutrition for 2020 and offers some indication of what hunger might look like by 2030, in a scenario further complicated by the enduring effects of the pandemic. It also includes new estimates of the cost and affordability of healthy diets, which provide an important link between the food security and nutrition indicators and the analysis of their trends. Altogether, the report highlights the need for a deeper reflection on how to better address the global food security and nutrition situation.(IANS)

S&P Reaffirms India’s Long-Term Sovereign Credit Rating, Outlook

Global rating agency Sta­ndard and Poor’s has affirmed India’s sovereign rating at “BBB-” and maintained a stable outlook on gradual recovery in the economy. India’s recovery will gather pace through the second half of FY22 and into the following year, helping to stabilise the country’s overall credit profile, S&P said in a statement. It, however, warned the country’s fiscal settings were weak, and the deficits would remain elevated over the coming years even as the government undertook some consolidation.

India’s strong external settings help to buffer the risks associated with the government’s high deficits and debt stock. India’s economy is recovering from a deep contraction in FY21 and a subsequent severe second wave of Covid. “We ex­pect real GDP growth to rebo­und to 9.5 per cent in FY22 on continued. India’s long-term rating was affirmed at ‘BBB-‘ with a stable outlook while the short-term rating was held at ‘A-3’. The stable outlook reflects our expectation that India’s economy will recover following the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic,” analysts at the rating agency wrote. “And that the country’s strong external settings will act as a buffer against financial strains despite elevated government funding needs over the next 24 months”.

S&P said, however, it may lower the country’s ratings if the economy recovers significantly slower than expected from fiscal year 2021/22, or if the general government deficits and associated indebtedness materially exceeds its forecasts. The rating agency said India continued to outperform its peers and it expected economic activity to begin to normalise throughout the rest of the year and the economy to grow 9.5% for the full year after a contraction of 7.3% in 2020/21. “The pace of India’s ambitious COVID-19 vaccination campaign will be crucial to the mitigation of adverse outcomes from future pandemic waves,” analysts wrote.

The agency, however, expects the country’s fiscal position to remain weak and only sees a gradual deficit consolidation over the next three years. S&P said there was a risk that some damage to the real economy from India’s deep economic downturn last year, and the more recent coronavirus outbreak, could be enduring but implementation and acceleration of key reforms could help to address this risk over the next few years.

“The government’s ability to deliver and execute additional economic reforms, especially those that spur investment and job creation, will be important for India’s ability to recover from the economic slowdown,” it said. “Existing vulnerabilities, including a relatively weak financial sector, rigid labour markets, and sluggish private investment, could hamper the economic recovery if not meaningfully addressed”.

Andy Jassy To Be Amazon CEO As Jeff Bezos Steps Down

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will leave his post later this year, turning the helm over to the company’s top cloud executive, Andy Jassy, according to an announcement Tuesday. Bezos will transition to executive chairman of Amazon’s board. Bezos, 57, founded Amazon in 1994 and has since morphed the one-time online bookstore into a mega-retailer with global reach in a slew of different categories from gadgets to groceries to streaming. Amazon surpassed a $1 trillion market cap under Bezos’ leadership in January of last year — it’s now worth more than $1.6 trillion.

“I’m excited to announce that this Q3 I’ll transition to Executive Chair of the Amazon Board and Andy Jassy will become CEO,” Bezos said in a letter to employees. “In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives. Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have. He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”

The company had kept its succession plans quiet, though onlookers speculated that either Jassy or Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, would be Bezos’ eventual successor. In August Amazon announced Wilke will retire in 2021. Jassy, 53, will become CEO in the third quarter.Jassy joined Amazon in 1997 and has led Amazon’s Web Services cloud team since its inception. AWS continues to drive much of Amazon’s profit. Bezos said he will stay engaged in important Amazon projects but will also have more time to focus on the Bezos Earth Fund, his Blue Origin spaceship company, The Washington Post and the Amazon Day 1 Fund.

“As much as I still tap dance into the office, I’m excited about this transition,” Bezos said in his internal announcement. “Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods. Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else.” While Bezos’ unquestionable impact on business can’t be understated, Amazon isn’t without its share of controversy. The company has been leveled with criticism over treatment of workers and controlling a monopoly that affects smaller businesses. That said, as Andy Jassy takes over at Amazon, here are some of Bezos’ bigger moments on his way to building a dynasty named after the largest river on the planet. His company is worth nearly $1.8 trillion.

Shorter Workweek Leads To ‘Major Success’

As many people contemplate a future in which they don’t need to commute to offices, the idea of working less altogether also has its appeal. Now, research out of Iceland has found that working fewer hours for the same pay led to improved well-being among workers, with no loss in productivity. In fact, in some places, workers were more productive after cutting back their hours.

Granted, Iceland is tiny. Its entire workforce amounts to about 200,000 people. But 86% of Iceland’s working population has moved to shorter hours or has the right to negotiate such a schedule, according to a report by the Association for Democracy and Sustainability and the think tank Autonomy. This follows two successful trials, involving 2,500 workers, that the report called “a major success.”

The trials were conducted from 2015 to 2019. Workers went from a 40-hour weekly schedule to 35- or 36-hour weekly schedules without a reduction in pay. The trials were launched after agitation from labor unions and grassroots organizations that pointed to Iceland’s low rankings among its Nordic neighbors when it comes to work-life balance. Workers across a variety of public- and private-sector jobs participated in the trials. They included people working in day cares, assisted living facilities, hospitals, museums, police stations and Reykjavik government offices.

Participants reported back on how they reduced their hours. A common approach was to make meetings shorter and more focused. One workplace decided that meetings could be scheduled only before 3 p.m. Others replaced them altogether with email or other electronic correspondence. Some workers started their shifts earlier or later, depending on demand. For example, at a day care, staff took turns leaving early as children went home. Offices with regular business hours shortened those hours, while some services were moved online.

Some coffee breaks were shortened or eliminated. The promise of a shorter workweek led people to organize their time and delegate tasks more efficiently, the study found. Working fewer hours resulted in people feeling more energized and less stressed. They spent more time exercising and seeing friends, which then had a positive effect on their work, they said. One worker quoted in the research cited an increased respect for the individual as a motivating factor. Rather than being seen as machines that work all day, there was recognition that workers have desires and private lives, families and hobbies.

Bitcoin Rallies After Dropping Below $30,000 On China Crackdown

Bitcoin recovered from a five-month low on Tuesday, June 22nd in volatile session in which it fell below $30,000, extending losses sparked a day earlier when China’s central bank deepened a crackdown on cryptocurrencies. But its outlook remained tilted to the downside, analysts said. As per Reuters, the world’s largest cryptocurrency dropped to $28,600, its lowest since early January. It was last up 3.7% at $32,802, and remains about 13% higher so far this year.

Bitcoin had fallen below $30,000 for the first time in more than five months, hit by China’s crackdown on the world’s most popular cryptocurrency on June 21st. The digital currency slipped to about $28,890, and has lost about 50% of its value since reaching an all-time high of $64,870 in April. China has told banks and payments platforms to stop supporting digital currency transactions. It follows an order on Friday to stop Bitcoin mining in Sichuan province.

On Monday, China’s central bank said it had recently summoned several major banks and payments companies to call on them to take tougher action over the trading of cryptocurrencies. Banks were told to not provide products or services such as trading, clearing and settlement for cryptocurrency transactions, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement. China’s third-largest lender by assets, the Agricultural Bank of China, said it was following the PBOC’s guidance and would conduct due diligence on clients to root out illegal activities involving cryptocurrency mining and transactions. China’s Postal Savings Bank also said it would not facilitate any cryptocurrency transactions.

Chinese mobile and online payments platform Alipay, which is owned by financial technology giant Ant Group, said it would set up a monitoring system to detect illegal cryptocurrency transactions. The latest measure came after authorities in the southwest province of Sichuan on Friday ordered Bitcoin mining operations to close down. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 mines last week, according to a notice widely circulated on Chinese social media sites and confirmed by a former Bitcoin miner.

Sichuan, a mountainous region in southwest China, is home to many cryptocurrency mines – basically huge centers with racks upon racks of computer processors, owing to the large number of hydroelectric power plants there. China accounted for around 65% of global Bitcoin production last year, with Sichuan rating as its second largest producer, according to research by the University of Cambridge. “Concerns mount over China’s ongoing clampdown and fears that widespread acceptance of Bitcoin and other digital currencies will be delayed because of concerns about their environmental impact,” noted analyst FawadRazaqzada at trading site ThinkMarkets.

Last month China’s cabinet, the State Council, said it would crack down on cryptocurrency mining and trading as part of a campaign to control financial risks. Some analysts have warned of potential further falls in the price of Bitcoin due to a price chart phenomenon known as a “death cross”, which occurs when a short-term average trendline crosses below a long-term average trendline.

Other cryptocurrencies also fell as investors worried about tougher regulation of digital currencies around the world.Separately, the auction house Sotheby’s said that a rare pear-shaped diamond that is expected to sell for as much as $15m can be bought at an auction next month using cryptocurrencies. It is the first time that such a large diamond has been offered in a public sale with cryptocurrency.

Digital Currencies Are Transforming The Future Of Money

Digital currencies like Bitcoin often make headlines for the massive swings in their value, but beyond the intrigue of skyrocketing and plummeting prices the rising popularity of cryptocurrencies poses serious questions for financial institutions and monetary policy. Eswar Prasad joins David Dollar for a conversation on the digitalization of money and what digital currencies could mean for the future of cash, international payments, and the strength of the U.S. dollar. Prasad also explains why some central banks have hesitated to introduce digital currencies while others have embraced them.

DAVID DOLLAR: Hi, I’m David Dollar, host of the Brookings trade podcast Dollar & Sense. Today, my guest is Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell and a senior fellow in the global development wing at Brookings. Eswar has recent op-eds in The New York Times and The Washington Post about digital currencies, and he has a new book coming out in September, “The Future of Money.” So that’s our topic today. Thanks for joining the show, Eswar.

ESWAR PRASAD: Thanks for having me, David. Always a pleasure talking to you.

DOLLAR: So let’s start with Bitcoin because it has gotten so much attention recently with the wild swings in prices. What’s going on with that? Is Bitcoin money? Is Bitcoin the future of money?

PRASAD: So Bitcoin is an interesting form of money. When it was created back in 2009, the objective of its creator or creators—whoever that might be, we don’t know yet—was to create a medium of exchange that could bypass a trusted authority, such as a central bank or a financial institution, and allow people to transact using just their digital identities. This was a very alluring prospect at the time because right after the global financial crisis it seemed like trust was shaken in both central banks and commercial banks as well.

The remaining portion of the interview is available at: https://www.brookings.edu/podcast-episode/digital-currencies-are-transforming-the-future-of-money/?utm_campaign=Brookings%20Brief&utm_medium=email&utm_content=135351819&utm_source=hs_email

US Re-Launches International Entrepreneur Rule, to Help Foreigners Grow a Start-up Company

The Biden Administration has revived the International Entrepreneur Rule which creates a pathway for foreign entrepreneurs to live in the U.S., with their families, and grow a start-up company. The International Entrepreneur Rule is different from an E-2 investor visa: Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs are not eligible for an E-2 visa, which is limited to citizens of countries with which the U.S. has a qualifying “treaty of commerce and navigation.” Approximately 80 countries throughout the world have such qualifying treaties, but India and China do not.

The program is often mischaracterized as a start-up visa program, but the organization Boundless Immigration explains that only Congress can create a whole new visa category. The rule is based on the Secretary of Homeland Security’s discretionary authority to grant “parole” in special circumstances. In the immigration context, “parole” means temporary permission to be in the United States. Forbes Magazine notes that 3.2 million foreign-born entrepreneurs operate businesses in the U.S., representing nearly 22 percent of all business owners versus just 14 percent of the broader population. They hold disproportionate numbers of patents for new technologies, employ 8 million people and are represented as founders at more than half of all venture-backed “unicorns,” companies valued at over $1 billion.

Despite several Congressional efforts, the U.S. does not have a start-up visa to support foreign entrepreneurs. The International Entrepreneur program was an initiative of the Obama Administration, and began as President Barack Obama ended his tenure in the White House. The Trump Administration attempted to end the program, but a federal court allowed the program to continue. The legal Web site JD Supra reported that only 30 applications were received between 2017 and 2019, and that only one application for international entrepreneur parole was actually approved during that time period.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the re-launch of the International Entrepreneur program May 10, noting: “It will remain a viable program for foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop start-up entities with high growth potential in the United States. The program will help to strengthen and grow our nation’s economy through increased capital spending, innovation, and job creation.”

“Immigrants in the United States have a long history of entrepreneurship, hard work, and creativity, and their contributions to this nation are incredibly valuable,” said Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud in a press statement. “The International Entrepreneur parole program goes hand-in-hand with our nation’s spirit of welcoming entrepreneurship and USCIS encourages those who are eligible to take advantage of the program.” In an article written by Caleb Watney, Lindsay Milliken and Doug Rand — co-founder of Boundless Immigration — for the Innovation Frontier Project, the writers used DHS estimates to predict that 2,940 entrepreneurs would avail of the program each year, creating an average of 100,000 to 300,000 new jobs over 10 years.

To qualify for a visa under the program, foreign entrepreneurs must prove that they will provide a “significant public benefit because he or she is the entrepreneur of a new start-up entity in the United States that has significant potential for rapid growth and job creation,” according to the rule, which can be read in its entirety here: https://bit.ly/3gCiYLP. Boundless Immigration explains that the foreign entrepreneur must have a significant ownership stake in the start-up of at least 10 percent, and have an active and central role in its operations.

The start-up must have been formed in the United States within the past five years and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. This can be demonstrated by attracting at least $250,000 from qualified U.S. investors, or $100,000 in awards or grants from federal, state or local agencies. Admission into a highly competitive start-up accelerator can also be used as a qualifier.

Entrepreneurs would be granted a two-and-a-half year visa, which can be extended for another two-and-a-half years, if the company meets qualifying criteria. The spouses and children of the entrepreneur are also granted a visa, and spouses are allowed to work. Up to three founders per start-up can apply for a visa under the International Entrepreneur Rule.

Tamil Nadu CM Stalin’s Economic Council Has World’s Top Luminaries

The Tamil Nadu government will constitute an Economic Advisory Council to guide chief minister MK Stalin to chart out a rapid and inclusive economic growth path for the state, said Governor BanwarilalPurohit on Monday, June 21st.A white paper detailing the true state of Tamil Nadu’s finances will be released in July, said Governor BanwarilalPurohit during the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai. And it comprises an impressive lineup of leading economic experts from all over the world. We’re talking Nobel laureate Esther Duflo (in pic) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, former RBI governor RaghuramRajan, former chief economic advisor to the central government Dr Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary Dr S Narayan as council members.

The council will provide general guidance on economic and social policy, social justice and human development-related issues, and in matters related to equal opportunities for women and well-being of underprivileged groups.It will also make suggestions to boost growth, employment and productivity across all sectors, as well as act as a sounding board for ideas that might resolve roadblocks to development. As the first step towards bringing down the overall debt burden and improving fiscal position, a white paper detailing the true state of the state’s finances would be released in July so that the people are fully informed.

The Tamil Nadu government will form an economic advisory council comprising Nobel laureate Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, and former Reserve Bank of India governor RaghuramRajan, to advise the chief minister. The other members of the council will be former chief economic advisor to the central government Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary S Narayan, Governor BanwarilalPurohit announced in his ceremonial address during the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai on Monday.

“Based on the recommendation of the council, the government will revitalise the state’s economy and ensure that benefits of economic growth reach all segments of society,” Purohit said. He said the government will focus on improving the fiscal position and bringing down the debt burden. A white paper detailing the true state of Tamil Nadu’s finances will be released in July. During the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai. The governor said while the Tamil Nadu government under MK Stalin would maintain a cordial relationship with the Union government, it would still fight for the rights of states.

The government has constituted a committee chaired by Justice AK Rajanto to study the adverse effects of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) on socially and educationally backward students, the governor said. Purohit announced that ‘Singara Chennai 2.0’ programme would be launched to provide world-class infrastructure and services in Greater Chennai Corporation. He also said the government would ensure speedy completion of phase two of metro rail.

Governor said the availability of medical infrastructure including oxygen beds has been substantially enhanced on a war-footing. “The Tamil Nadu government will urge the Union government to make necessary laws and amendments to grant Indian citizenship to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka,” the governor said. He said the government is committed to transparency and accountability in temple management. “A state-level advisory committee for all major Hindu temples will be constituted to enhance the facilities for devotees, improve the maintenance of temples and to advise on related issues,” he said.

He added that the reservation policy of the state is 100 years old and has stood the test of time, delivering true social justice. “The 69% reservation currently available in Tamil Nadu will be continued and protected.” Purohit concluded his speech by saying DMK-led government will be a people’s government and not the party’s.

Big Diamond Found InBotswana, Could Be World’s 3rd Largest

GABORONE, Botswana (AP) — A huge diamond weighing more than 1,000 carats, which could be the third-largest mined in history, has been discovered in the southern African country of Botswana.The high-quality gemstone weighing 1,098.3 carats was unearthed earlier this month in the Jwaneng mine owned by Debswana, the mining company jointly owned by the Botswanan government and the De Beers Group.

“With the recent introduction of a modern, state-of-the-art large diamond pilot plant, I have every hope that we will be able to recover more large diamonds,” said Lynette Armstrong, Debswana’s acting managing director. “This by all standards is a great metallurgical achievement, to recover a diamond of this size intact through our conventional ore processing plant,” she said.

The large diamond — 73 millimeters long, 52 millimeters wide and 27 millimeters thick — is the largest gem-quality diamond found in Debswana’s mines in the company’s more than 50-year history, she said. Diamonds were discovered in Botswana in 1967 and Debswana was formed in 1969. The most recent large diamond found at Jwaneng mine was a stone weighing 446 carats in 1993, she said.

“The first sighting of the stone was on the first of June by our colleagues KefentseOrakeng and PhodisoSelaledi when it was processed in the Aquarium plant. This sighting was confirmed three days later in the sort house on June 4th by a team led by WapulaGaolatlhe,” said Armstrong. The big diamond is good news for Botswana’s beleaguered economy which has experienced a significant downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Diamonds account for about two-thirds of Botswana’s export earnings.

Bill Introduced Allowing Doctors on J-1 Visas to Stay Longer in Rural Communities

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa have reintroduced bipartisan legislation to increase the number of doctors able to work in rural and medically underserved communities, Klobuchar’s office said in a news release. The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in areas experiencing doctor shortages.  Senator Angus King (I-ME) is an original co-sponsor along with Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

“We must provide opportunities for American-trained and educated physicians to remain in the country and practice in areas where there is an unmet need for quality care,” said Senator Collins. “By expanding access to health care in our rural and underserved communities, this bipartisan bill would promote healthier lives and ensure that families across the country receive the health care they deserve.”

“Over the last 15 years, the Conrad 30 program has brought more than 15,000 physicians to underserved areas, filling a critical need for quality care in our rural communities – a need that was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation would allow doctors to remain in the areas they serve, improving health care for families across the nation while retaining talent trained and educated here in the United States,” she added.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Klobuchar led a bipartisan group of 19 senators and 29 members of the House in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services calling on the administration to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas from providing medical services in rural areas. She also led a letter to USCIS with 24 senators and 13 members of the House, urging the administration to resume premium processing for doctors seeking employment-based visas.

“The American Medical Association strongly supports this bill that would ensure all patients, regardless of where they live, have adequate opportunities to be treated by skilled physicians in their local communities,” said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, President of the American Medical Association. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of rural and underserved areas having sufficient access to physicians and quality health care. Strengthening the Conrad 30 program is a vital part of making access happen.”

“Now more than ever, the U.S. must offer incentives and opportunities to trained physicians to work in areas of the country where we desperately need more excellent healthcare providers. The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act is a bipartisan effort to begin tackling our national physician shortfall, with a targeted focus on our rural and underserved area,” said Kristie De Peña, Vice President of Policy at The Niskanen Center.

“The latest extension of the Conrad State 30 Program will expire later this year, which is why we urge action to extend this critical program. Without timely reauthorization, patient access to care in the many communities that have benefited from these physicians may be threatened,” said Stacey Hughes, Executive Vice President of the American Hospital Association. “We also support the program improvements contained in the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act as part of this extension and stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to move this legislation forward.”

“NRHA applauds Senators Klobuchar, Collins, Rosen, and Ernst for reintroducing the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act. Rural Americans face greater health care workforce shortages than their urban counterparts, so we are proud to support this bill, which will help support the recruitment of physicians and the delivery of vital health care services in rural America,” said Carrie Cochran-McClain, Chief Policy Officer at the National Rural Health Association.

“Many highly trained hospitalists are immigrants and as COVID-19 has proven, they are crucial to our healthcare system, particularly in rural and underserved communities.  The Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) strongly supports the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act to help ensure these communities have the healthcare workforce necessary to care for the patients who need them,” said Eric Howell, MD, MHM, CEO of the Society of Hospital Medicine.

Currently, doctors from other countries working in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country for two years after their residency has ended before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the United States without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The “30” refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.

This legislation extends the Conrad 30 program for three years, improves the process for obtaining a visa, and allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while protecting small states’ slots. The bill also allows the spouses of doctors to work and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated. A version of the bill was included as an amendment in the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013. The bill has received the endorsement of the Federation of American Hospitals, American Medical Association, the Niskanen Center, the American Hospital Association, the National Rural Health Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Society of Hospital Medicine.

Eagle Act 2021 Gives Hope To Indians Stuck In Green Card Backlog

The Equal Access to Green cards for Legal Employment HR 3648 or the EAGLE Act 2021, introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Rep John Curtis, giving Equal Access to Green Cards for Legal Employment in the United States, is a welcome measure that is expected to do away with the  seven percent per-country cap on employment-based immigrant visas. Considered to be a relief for tens of thousands of Indian nationals stuck in Green Card limbo, a bipartisan legislation introduced in the House of Representatives aims to remove per-country limit on employment-based green cards. He gives these pointers explaining the bill’s advantages

According to experts, getting out of the backlog will provide them a chance to change jobs, to start their own companies, to make investments and a freedom from the bondage of their organization rules specially on changing jobs, promotions, etc. So, it may be worth a try to push for the bill and hope for the best.EAGLE Act of 2021 phases out seven percent per-country cap on employment-based immigrant visas. It also raises per-country cap on family-sponsored visas to 15 percent. While skepticism remains on whether this bill has the potential to become a law or would change the landscape of the green card backlog anytime soon, some immigration experts believe that a good bill is better than no bill.

San Francisco Bay Area-based Prashant Prasad, a volunteer for Immigration Voice, a grass roots organization representing the high skilled immigrants in the US, explains why the current bill may be good news. He says, “We started advocating for a simple bill which would remove the per country caps for employment based green cards many years ago. The primary purpose of this was to ensure that employment based green cards are given on a first come first served basis.

As per experts, here is how, the Act will benefit:

Professional

  1. Today about 80% of the people are not able to or do not change jobs because of the fear of starting the green card process all over again as it can take anywhere from 1.5 years to 4 years after most job changes.
  2. The increased restrictions on H-1B holders, means that people who have been here for many years and may well be experts in their areas, fear that their visas may not renewed for some flimsy reasons, as has been the case for the last few years.
  3. Losing a job for an H-1B visa holder means one has to find a job within 45 days (60 days today, but 15 days are required for LCA processing and H-1B filing) otherwise they have to leave the country with family.
  4. Many companies do not hire H-1Bs, due to restrictive company policies in recent years driven by the ever increasing restrictions on H-1Bs in the previous Trump regime.

Hence, when I switched jobs just before Covid impacted this company, the entire team of about 8-9 people, who were recently hired, had to look for new jobs. While I was lucky to land a job within the available timeframe, many of the companies for whom I was a perfect fit and wanted to hire me, could not do so, because they were not hiring H-1Bs.

  1. Ambitions get impacted as a majority of people just sacrifice career growth for the safety and stability of their jobs and hence the family.

Personal

  1. It is a big disruption. If one has to move their family back to India especially with kids who have grown up in America and do not deserve an abrupt change.
  2. My daughter came here when she was one year old and hence will not be covered by my green card process when she turns 21.

Even though she has grown up here, studied here, identifies with the school system here, has her friends here, I am worried that she will age out if I don’t get my green card before she turns 21. My priority date is 2014 and if no change happens in the law, I will probably not get a green card in another 20-25 years. There are many like me who live with the fear of kids aging out of the system.

  1. I studied at a college which is ranked among the best for entrepreneurship and I was very enthused to start an entrepreneurial venture of my own, while still in college.

However, being on H-1B has more or less killed that dream, as we always have the visa situation at the back of our minds. The bill if implemented will solve this problem for many.

  1. My wife, who herself is a M. Tech (Computer Science) and used to work in India, could not start working here for many years, until the H-4 EAD regulation came into effect.

Staying in a place where technology jobs are in abundance but unable to even try for one, was a very painful situation for her. H-4 EAD holders have been fighting a brave battle in the country from sacrificing careers to long wait for work permits. They do deserve a better deal than the current one.

  1. Issues like delaying decisions to buy a house, deferring international travel, in the last few years due to challenges with H-1B stamping etc. are also a major reason why H-1Bs are leading uncertain lives in America.

The Ongoing Urban ExodusTo Impact Home Prices

Newswise — Many employees have come to prefer working from home after being forced to do so more than a year ago when the pandemic started. By some estimates, at least one-quarter of employees will still be working remotely multiple days a week at the end of 2021. For those whose jobs allow it, being untethered from the office might mean moving farther away from it – by a few miles or a few hundred.

The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a white paper by Jan Brueckner, UCI Distinguished Professor of economics, and his colleagues Matthew Kahn and Gary Lin at Johns Hopkins University considering the possible effects that ongoing remote work may have on housing markets, especially in the more densely populated and pricey urban areas. Brueckner shares his insights here.

You suggest that as more people have the opportunity to work from home, we’ll see people move either farther into suburbia or to entirely different, less expensive cities. Why?                                                                                                       If workers can keep their well-paying jobs and move to a cheaper city, their incomes will go further. However, such a move might entail a sacrifice of amenities (good weather, etc.) that would need to be considered. For those workers who remain in their original city, the reduction in commuting costs due to working from home (going to the office only once a week, say) makes the suburbs – where housing is cheaper on a per-square-foot basis – more attractive than before. As a result, working from home may lead to greater suburbanization.

What cities might we expect to be most affected by these shifts?
We would expect to see impacts in expensive cities with large shares of white-collar jobs that pay well and allow working from home. Such cities would include New York, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. We expect people to move out of these cities – either into outlying suburban areas or to entirely different cities or even states.

So … it could become affordable to live in San Francisco again?
Possibly.

On the flip side, where do you expect to see people flock to?
We’ve heard in the media about migration from California to Austin, Texas, which is relatively cheap and offers less of an amenity sacrifice compared to coastal locations. The same is true for Boise, Idaho, which is in the news a lot. Migration data a few years hence will give a more complete picture.

Is this going to mean more gentrification in some cities?
In one sense, it’s exactly the reverse. The prediction is that many well-paid residents will be leaving the country’s premier cities, allowing more room for the less affluent. Gentrification may increase in the receiving cities as immigrants arrive, but gentrification pressure is lower in many of these places and thus less of a concern for poorer central city residents.

You mention that “the economy still has a long way to go before reaching the new predicted equilibrium.” What kind of time horizon do you envision?
If our predictions are correct, we’d expect these changes to be complete within a decade. There are a number of caveats, however. Our predictions assume that CEOs will tolerate remote work from another city and not penalize those who do it. The Wall Street Journal, however, recently ran a story that casts doubt on this assumption. The issue partly hinges on whether remote workers can maintain their productivity, a concern discounted by some media reports saying that workers feel more productive remotely. A further question involves integration of new employees into an organization that relies on remote work. New employees may have trouble forging bonds and creating a rapport with their colleagues.

As we approach this new equilibrium, what are some other changes we can expect to see?
Intercity relocation will depress house prices and rents in cities that lose population while raising them in the receiving cities. Intracity relocation will push prices up in the suburbs. These changes will, in turn, affect property tax revenues across and within cities.

Colonial Pipeline CEO Defends Paying Ransom Amid Cyberattack

Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount made no apologies for his decisions to abruptly halt fuel distribution for much of the East Coast and pay millions to a criminal gang in Russia as he faced down one of the most disruptive ransomware attacks in U.S. history.Blount said he had no choice, telling senators uneasy with his actions that he feared far worse consequences given the uncertainty the company was confronting as the attack unfolded last month. “I know how critical our pipeline is to the country,” Blount said, “and I put the interests of the country first.”

His testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the May 7 cyberattack provided a rare window into the dilemma faced by the private sector amid a storm of ransomware attacks in which overseas hackers breach a company’s network and encrypt their data, demanding a ransom to release it back to them.

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, which supplies roughly half the fuel consumed on the East Coast, temporarily shut down its operations on May 7 after a gang of criminal hackers known as DarkSide broke into its computer system. The Justice Department has recovered the majority of a multimillion-dollar ransom payment to hackers after a cyberattack that caused the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline to halt its operations last month, officials said Monday.The operation to recover the cryptocurrency from the Russia-based hacker group is the first undertaken by a specialized ransomware task force created by the Biden administration Justice Department, and reflects what US officials say is an increasingly aggressive approach to deal with a ransomware threat that in the last month has targeted critical industries around the world.

“By going after an entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital currency, we will continue to use all of our tools and all of our resources to increase the costs and the consequences of ransomware attacks and other cyber-enabled attacks,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Monday at a news conference announcing the operation.The 63.7 bitcoin ransom — a favored currency of hackers because of the perception that it is more difficult to trace — is currently valued at $2.3 million. “The extortionists will never see this money,” said Stephanie Hinds, the acting US attorney for the Northern District of California, where the seizure warrant was filed.

U.S. authorities tell companies not to pay the ransom, arguing the crooks may not provide the keys to unencrypt the data and that the payments will encourage future attacks and help sustain criminal networks typically based in Russia and Eastern Europe. Blount chose to disregard that advice within the first 24 hours of the attack and paid the equivalent of $4.4 million in bitcoin to retrieve the company’s data. U.S. officials said Monday they had recovered much of the payment.“I made the decision to pay, and I made the decision to keep the information about the payment as confidential as possible,” Blount said. “It was the hardest decision I’ve made in my 39 years in the energy industry.”

The company, he said, had to act fast as it worked feverishly to determine whether the criminal gang had compromised the operational systems or physical security of the 5,500-mile pipeline — and to try to avoid a more sustained shutdown.Asked how much worse it would have been if the company hadn’t paid to get its data back, Blount said, “That’s an unknown we probably don’t want to know. And it may be an unknown we probably don’t want to play out in a public forum.”His appearance before the Senate comes as lawmakers consider possible measures to address the ransomware attacks that have been launched against thousands of businesses as well as state and local government agencies.

“We’ve got to recognize these ransomware attacks for what they are. It’s a serious national security threat,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. “Attacks against critical infrastructure are not just attacks on companies. They are attacks on our country itself.”Already, the Justice Department and FBI have established a task force to deal with ransomware with some success, including managing to seize 85% of the bitcoin that Colonial paid as ransom. But many of the criminals behind the attacks are beyond their reach in Russia or other countries that will not extradite suspects to the U.S.The Biden administration has also made ransomware, and cybersecurity more broadly, a national priority in the wake of a series of high-profile intrusions.

Last month, the administration issued new regulations for the pipeline industry, requiring companies to conduct cybersecurity assessments and immediately report any breaches to the federal government. The industry has until now operated under voluntary guidelines.Blount disputed a media report that his company had refused to participate in one of the voluntary assessments, conducted by the Transportation Security Administration, earlier this year, saying it had merely been delayed because of COVID-19 and other issues. “That was quite a shock to me,” he said of the account.

The attack on Colonial Pipeline — which supplies roughly 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast — has been attributed to a Russia-based gang of cybercriminals using the DarkSide ransomware variant, one of more than 100 variants the FBI is currently investigating. The attack began after hackers used a company virtual private network that was no longer in active use, Blount said.“The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline affected millions of Americans, ” said Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat. “The next time an incident like this happens, unfortunately, it could be even worse.”

Blount said the Georgia-based company began negotiating with the hackers on the evening of the May 7 attack and paid a ransom of 75 bitcoin — then valued at roughly $4.4 million — the following day. The hack prompted the company to halt operations before the ransomware could spread to its operating systems.The encryption tool the hackers provided the company in exchange for the payment helped “to some degree” but was not perfect, with Colonial still in the process of fully restoring its systems while working with consultants to assess the damage and improve cybersecurity, Blount said.

It took the company five days to resume pipeline operations. What took place in that time illustrated why they needed to quickly pay the ransom, he told the lawmakers.“We already started to see pandemonium going on in the markets, people doing unsafe things like filling garbage bags full of gasoline or people fist-fighting in line at the fuel pump,” he said. “The concern would be what would happen if it had stretched on beyond that amount of time.”

‘Illegal’ Leak Of WealthiestTax Information Reveals Tax Havens Used

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s income tax bill came to zero in 2018. And financier George Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax, according to a report from the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica. Overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax — 15.8% of adjusted gross income — than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, ProPublica found.

An anonymous source delivered to ProPublica reams of Internal Revenue Service data on the country’s wealthiest people, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. ProPublica compared the tax data it received with information available from other sources. It reported that “in every instance we were able to check — involving tax filings by more than 50 separate people — the details provided to ProPublica matched the information from other sources.’’

Using perfectly legal tax strategies, many of the uber-rich are able to whittle their federal tax bills down to nothing or close to it. Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax; billionaire investor Carl Icahn, two, ProPublica finds. The findings are sure to heighten the national debate over the vast and widening inequality between the very wealthiest Americans and everyone else. ProPublica reports that the tax bills of the rich are especially low when compared with their soaring wealth — the value of their investment portfolios, real estate and other assets.

The Biden administration said it is investigating how tax information from several of the world’s richest people — including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett — was leaked to the public. “The unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal,” said Treasury spokeswoman Lily Adams. “The matter is being referred to the Office of the Inspector General, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of whom have independent authority to investigate.”

The investigation comes after a report that showed new information from a trove of never-before-seen IRS records. Earlier Tuesday, ProPublica reported on exclusively obtained IRS documents which showed how the likes of Bezos, Musk, Buffett, Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg have legally avoided paying income tax.”Any unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information by a person of access is illegal and we take this very seriously,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during Tuesday’s briefing.

Psaki also reiterated the Biden administration’s stance on having wealthy Americans pay more taxes to fund the President’s proposals.  “I’m not going to comment on specific unauthorized disclosures of confidential government information. I can tell you that, broadly speaking ,we know that there is more to be done to ensure that corporations, individuals who are at the highest income are paying more of their fair share. Hence, it’s in the President’s proposals, his budget and part of how he’s proposing to pay for his ideas,” Psaki said.

Five Myths About Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, was launched in 2009. Today, there are thousands of cryptocurrencies with a total value of about $2 trillion. The surge in their prices earlier this year minted tens of thousands of cryptocurrency millionaires—at least on paper. Cryptocurrencies might turn out to be a massive speculative bubble that ends up hurting many naive investors. Indeed, many cryptocurrency fortunes have already evaporated with the recent plunge in prices. But whatever their ultimate fate, the ingenious technological innovations underpinning them will transform the nature of money and finance.

Myth No. 1

A cryptocurrency is real money that can be used for payments.

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum were designed as a way to make payments without relying on traditional modes such as currency notes, debit cards, credit cards or checks. The bitcoin white paper, which set off the cryptocurrency revolution, envisions an electronic payment system that allows “any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party,” cutting governments and banks out of the financial loop. The website Pymnts claims, “Blockchain IS the future of the payments industry,” a reference to the computational technology that undergirds cryptocurrencies.

In fact, it has become very expensive and slow to conduct transactions using cryptocurrencies. It takes about 10 minutes for a bitcoin transaction to be validated, and the average fee for just one transaction was recently about $20. Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, processes transactions slightly faster but also has high fees.

Moreover, wild swings in the values of most cryptocurrencies make them unreliable as a means of payment. In late April, the price of a Dogecoin was 20 cents. It tripled in the next two weeks and then fell to half that peak value ten days later. It is as though a $10 bill could buy you just a cup of coffee one day and a lavish meal at a fancy restaurant just a few weeks later. Even on a calmer, more typical day, the value of a major cryptocurrency such as Ethereum might fluctuate by 10 percent or more, making it too unstable to be practical. Recently, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin as a form of payment, reversing a policy it had implemented earlier in the year. The value of a single coin almost immediately plummeted. A Chinese crackdown on cryptocurrencies then briefly took another one-third off the price in just one day.

Myth No. 2

Cryptocurrencies are a good investment.

Investment funds in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have proliferated. Even major banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are getting into the game. And you would certainly have made a fantastic return if you had bought any of the major cryptocurrencies last year. A typical article in the Motley Fool debates not whether cryptocurrencies are a good investment but “which one is right for you.” The website Business Mole claims: “Even with adjustments made, Bitcoin and Ethereum are very profitable. It’s simple.”

But beware. Part of the allure seems to be that, like gold, the supply of most cryptocurrencies is tightly controlled (by the computer programs that manage them). For instance, about 18.5 million bitcoin have been created so far, and there will eventually be a maximum of 21 million bitcoin. This is a cap set by the computer program that manages the supply of the currency.

Scarcity by itself is not, however, enough to create value—there has to be demand. Since cryptocurrencies cannot easily be used to make most payments and have no other intrinsic uses, the only reason they have value is because many people seem to think they are good investments. If that changed, their value could quickly drop to nothing.

Myth No. 3

Bitcoin is fading. Meme coins are the future.

Bitcoin is now seen as the granddaddy of cryptocurrencies, and investors (or speculators, more precisely) are piling into other cryptocurrencies such as Dogecoin. In 2019, Investopedia claimed that bitcoin was “losing its power as the driving force of the cryptocurrency world.” “Bitcoin And Ethereum Are Being Left In The Dust ByDogecoin,” reads a recent Forbes headline.

Dogecoin and other such cryptocurrencies, which are simply built around memes (Dogecoin, with its ShibaInu dog mascot, references the “doge” meme), don’t even make a pretense of being usable in financial transactions. And there is no clear constraint on the supply of these coins, so their prices surge or crash on random events such as tweets from Musk. The valuations of meme currencies seem to be based entirely on the “greater fool” theory—all you need to do to profit from your investment is to find an even greater fool willing to pay a higher price than you paid for the digital coins.Bitcoin’s technology does seem outdated compared with some of the newer cryptocurrencies that enable greater anonymity for users, faster transaction processing and more sophisticated technical features that facilitate automatic processing of complex financial transactions. For all its flaws, however, bitcoin remains dominant: It accounts for nearly half of the total value of all cryptocurrencies.

Myth No. 4

Cryptocurrencies will displace the dollar.

Morgan Stanley’s chief global strategist, Ruchir Sharma, has argued that bitcoin could end the dollar’s reign—or at least that the “digital currency poses a significant threat to [the] greenback’s supremacy.” A Financial Times headline proposes, even more ominously, that “Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline.”Cryptocurrencies are not backed by anything other than the faith of the people who own them. The dollar, by contrast, is backed by the U.S. government. Investors still trust the dollar, even in hard times. As one illustration, domestic and foreign investors continue to eagerly snap up trillions of dollars in U.S. Treasury securities even at low interest rates.

New cryptocurrencies called stablecoins aim to have stable values and therefore make it easier to conduct digital payments. Facebook plans to issue its own cryptocurrency, called Diem, that will be backed one for one with U.S. dollars, giving it a stable value. But the value of stablecoins comes precisely from their backing by government-issued currencies. So while dollars might become less important in making payments, the primacy of the U.S. dollar as a store of value will not be challenged.

Myth No. 5

Cryptocurrencies are just a fad and will fade away.

Warren Buffett has compared cryptocurrencies to the 17th-century Dutch tulip craze, while Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey cautioned, “Buy them only if you’re prepared to lose all your money.” Economist NourielRoubini called bitcoin “the mother or father of all scams” and even criticized its underlying technology.

Cryptocurrencies may or may not persevere as speculative investment vehicles, but they are triggering transformative changes to money and finance. As the technology matures, stablecoins will hasten the ascendance of digital payments, ushering out paper currency. The prospect of competition from such private currencies has prodded central banks around the world to design digital versions of their currencies. The Bahamas has already rolled out a central bank digital currency, while countries like China, Japan and Sweden are conducting experiments with their own official digital money. The dollar bills in your wallet—if you still have any—could soon become relics.

Even transactions such as buying a car or a house could soon be managed through computer programs run on cryptocurrency platforms. Digital tokens representing money and other assets could ease electronic transactions that involve transfers of assets and payments, often without trusted third parties such as real estate settlement attorneys. Governments will still be needed to enforce contractual obligations and property rights, but software could someday take the place of other intermediaries, including bankers, accountants and lawyers.

Economic Toll Of Climate Crisis ‘Will Be Like Two Pandemics A Year’

The world’s biggest industrialized economies will shrink by twice as much as they did during the coronavirus pandemic if they do not tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions, according to research. Oxfam and the Swiss Re Institute have warned that the G7 countries will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, the equivalent of nearly $5tn, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6C (36.68F), as they are predicted to. During Covid-19, G7 economies shrank by an average of about 4.2%. The research forecasts economic losses from the climate crisis by 2050 would be roughly equivalent to enduring a similar crisis to the pandemic twice a year, reports the environment correspondent Fiona Harvey.

According to Oxfam’s analysis of research by the Swiss Re Institute, human and economic impact on low-income nations will be much worse. Oxfam warned on Monday that the loss in GDP is double that of the COVID-19 pandemic, which already caused G7 economies to shrink by an average of 4.2%.The worst affected country in the G7 would be Italy, which stands to lose 11.4%. The US would be hit with a 7.2% loss by 2050, with Japan set to lose 9.1%, Germany 8.3%, France 10%, and Canada 6.9%. The UK economy would lose 6.5% a year by 2050 on current policies and projections, compared with 2.4% if the goals of the Paris climate agreement are met.

Although economies are expected to recover from the short-term effects of the current health crisis, the effects of climate change will be seen every year, the research said. Oxfam is calling on G7 leaders, who are meeting in the UK later this week, to reduce carbon emissions more quickly and steeply.Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, called on the UK to “strain every diplomatic sinew” to drive more climate ambition from fellow G7 nations at the upcoming G7 summit. “The UK government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the world towards a safer, more liveable planet for all of us,” he said.

Swiss Re modelled how climate change is likely to affect economies through gradual, chronic climate risks such as heat stress, impacts on health, sea level rise and agricultural productivity. All of the 48 nations in the study are expected to see an economic contraction, with many countries predicted to be hit far worse than the G7.The data showed that by 2050, India, which was invited to the G7 summit, is projected to lose 27% from its economy, while Australia, South Africa and South Korea are projected to lose 12.5%, 17.8%, and 9.7% respectively.The Philippines is projected to lose 35% and Colombia is projected to lose 16.7%.It follows a recent study by the World Bank that suggested between 32 million and 132 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change.

Oxfam added that G7 governments are also collectively failing to deliver on a pledge to provide $100bn per year to help poor countries respond to climate change. Only two G7 countries have said they will increase climate finance from current levels. France decided to maintain its current level of climate finance while Canada, Germany, Japan and Italy have yet to state their intentions, the charity said,Oxfam estimates their current commitments amount to $36bn in public climate finance by 2025, with only a quarter ($8-10 billion) of that for adaptation. “The economic case for climate action is clear ―now we need G7 governments to take dramatic action in the next nine years to cut emissions and increase climate finance,” Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam, said.

“The economic turmoil projected in wealthy G7 countries is only the tip of the iceberg: many poorer parts of the world will see increasing deaths, hunger and poverty as a result of extreme weather. This year could be a turning point if governments grasp the challenge to create a safer more liveable planet for all.”All G7 governments have unveiled new climate targets ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in November, with most falling short of what is needed to limit global warming below 1.5°C. The projections used in this press release assume high stress factors and global warming of 2.6°C by mid-century, which is a level of warming that could be reached based on current policies and climate pledges from all countries.

The conference, which is being held between 1 and 12 November, will be the largest summit the UK has ever hosted. It will have dozens of world leaders in attendance and bring together representatives from nearly 200 countries, including experts and campaigners.It was originally scheduled for November 2020 but was delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been described as the most significant climate event since the global Paris Agreement was secured in 2015.

Jerome Haegeli, group chief economist at Swiss Re, said: “Climate change is the long-term number one risk to the global economy, and staying where we are is not an option – we need more progress by the G7. That means not just obligations on cutting CO2 but helping developing countries too, that’s super-important.” He also added that vaccines for COVID-19 were also a key way to help developing countries.

India May Have Lost 3% Of Its GDP Due To Global Warming

Titled The Costs of Climate Change in India, the report states that India is already experiencing the consequences of 1 degree C of global warming. India may have already lost 3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on account of global warming of 1 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and risks losing 10% of its GDP in the extreme scenario of a 3 degree Celsius increase, which would lead to a rise in sea levels, a decline in agricultural productivity, and increased health expenditure, according to a report by London think tank ODI.

Some of the studies cited by the report make direr predictions. Citing a research paper published last year by Oxford Economics, and authored by economist James Nixon, the ODI report says India’s GDP would currently be around 25% higher were it not for the costs of global warming, and predicts that, with 3 degree C of warming it is likely to be 90% lower by the end of the century than it would have been otherwise.

“India is already feeling the costs of climate change, with many cities reporting temperatures above 48 degree C in 2020 and a billion people facing severe water scarcity for at least a month of the year. If action is not taken to cut emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degree C, the human and economic toll will rise even higher,” said Angela Picciariello, senior research officer at ODI. Average temperatures across India rose by 0.62 degree C over the last 100 years, rising at a slower rate than the global average, but the impact of the climate crisis is felt almost every year. Between 1985 and 2009, western and southern India saw 50% more heatwave events than in the previous 25 years.

ODI researchers recommend that India set more ambitious CO2 emission mitigation targets. “First, higher levels of global warming will have devastating human and economic costs. Second, a more climate-smart development trajectory would potentially yield a range of benefits, including cleaner air, higher rates of job creation and greater energy, food and water security. These considerations are shifting domestic narratives around climate change policy, including high-level debates about whether or not to commit to carbon neutrality by mid-century.”

“Stronger emission targets do not need to compromise India’s development aspirations,” the report added. ODI recommends ending public support for coal and improving the performance of electricity distribution systems, supporting economic diversification in regions that heavily depend on coal for jobs and revenues, and focusing on clean energy generation which could create millions of jobs.“Climate disasters can reverse the progress that has been made on reducing poverty and disrupt the lifelines of a growing economy… Investing in green sectors like renewable energy, public transport and land restoration can create new jobs, stimulate economic growth. It can lead to massive savings in fuel costs,” said UlkaKelkar, director, Climate Program at World Resources Institute.

Tech Giants Offer Signing In Bonuses To New Employees

America’s stores are having trouble bringing on staff to meet growing demand from customers as the US economy regains steam. So they’re turning to an incentive less commonly deployed in the retail industry: sign-on bonuses for new hires.Amazon (AMZN), Ollie’s Bargain Outlet (OLLI), Tops Markets supermarket chain, Sheetz convenience stores and many smaller stores are offering such one-time payments to sweeten job offers to new workers. Sign-on bonuses can be more attractive for some employers than raising wages because bonuses are not permanent and ultimately cheaper, said Andrew Challenger, vice president at executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Executive search firm Korn Ferry found in a survey of more than 50 major US retailers in late April that 94% said they were having difficulty filling vacant roles. Twenty-nine percent said they had implemented a sign-on bonus to help in hiring, while 32% said they had a referral program.”Historically, stores have not had to do sign-on bonuses,” said Craig Rowley, senior client partner at Korn Ferry specializing in retail. “In the past, there were always enough people applying for jobs. It tells you how needy retailers are for staff,” he said.

Companies are searching for workers as growing numbers of vaccinated Americans head back to stores. There were 878,000 job openings in the US retail sector in March, a 53% increase from the same month last year, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the warehouse and transportation sector, there were 348,000 open jobs in March, a 5% increase from a year ago. Retailers are adding more warehouse and delivery jobs as online shopping becomes more widespread.Economists, labor experts and companies say the reasons for the hiring challenges are varied, but they include difficulties workers are having finding child and family care, health and safety concerns among the workforce, and expanded unemployment benefits.Companies hope bonuses will help them meet staffing needs and continue growing.

‘A cherry on top’Amazon announced in May that it is hiring 75,000 people in warehouse and transportation jobs and offering sign-on bonuses of up to $1,000 in many locations. The company also said the jobs offer an average pay of over $17 an hour, higher than the company’s $15 minimum wage.Amazon employees has offered higher sign-on bonuses for some hourly positions, too.

Robin Ray Buscaino, 22, lost his job in 2020 at a restaurant in Colton, California, and was unemployed for a year. He started working at an Amazon regional air hub in San Bernardino, California, loading and unloading cargo from planes for $16.40 an hour. Buscaino said the $3,000 bonus Amazon was offering for the job was a deciding factor in his decision to work there. “The bonus was a cherry on top,” he said. Other places he was looking at weren’t able to match it.

Are unemployment benefits causing working shortages? Here’s what we know.

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet is giving $1,000 sign-on bonuses to staff 200 open jobs at its distribution centers. Sheetz is offering $500 bonuses for store workers and $1,000 for shift supervisors to fill 50 jobs. Tops Markets, a supermarket chain in the Northeast, is handing out $2,000 bonuses to hire around 100 workers in its distribution center.Customer demand is “up all over the country,” said Tom Kuypers, a spokesperson for Ollie’s. “We need people for our distribution centers” to meet it.

Ollie’s implemented the $1,000 bonus last month, and Kuypers said he thinks it helped make the company more competitive in hiring and increased the number of applicants.Grocery stores saw a surge in business last year, and many are still are looking to hire more staff.  Clint Woodman, the president of Woodman’s Markets, an employee-owned supermarket chain with 18 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois, said the company needs to hire 600 workers to give a breather to its current employees, many of whom are working overtime.The company last week began offering up to $1,500 bonuses for new full-time workers and $500 employee referral bonuses. “We’re certainly hoping that it has a big effect so we can provide the service that our customers are used to,” he said.

Arun Venkataraman Nominated as Director General for Foreign Commercial Service in Commerce Department

President Joe Biden announced the nomination of Arun Venkataraman to serve as Director General of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets in the Department of Commerce on May 26th.

Venkataraman currently serves in the administration as Counselor to the Secretary of Commerce, advising the department on trade and other international economic matters. The Indian American attorney also served in the Obama administration as the first-ever director of policy at the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. In that role, he helped shape the U.S. government’s responses to critical challenges faced by firms in the U.S. and in markets around the world, including China and India, according to a White House statement announcing the nomination.

These challenges included excess capacity in the global steel and aluminum industries; online piracy and counterfeiting; improper application of competition laws; unjustified limitations on data flows; and national security-based restrictions on goods, services and technology, according to his profile on the Steptoe and Johnson LLP Web site.In this role, Venkataraman also led the International Trade Administration’s efforts to conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and secure passage of Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

In the Obama administration, Venkataraman also served in the Office of the US Trade Representative, where he led the development and implementation of U.S.-India trade policy as the director for India, for which he received the agency’s Kelly Award for outstanding performance and extraordinary leadership.Before joining USTR, Venkataraman was a legal officer at the World Trade Organization, advising the organization on a wide range of issues raised in appeals of trade disputes between countries. In the Obama administration, Venkataraman also served as Associate General Counsel, representing the United States in litigation before the World Trade Organization and in negotiations on international trade agreements.

The Tufts University alumnus — who received his J.D. from Columbia Law School and earned a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy — has over 20 years of experience advising companies, international organizations and the U.S. government on international trade issues. Before joining the Biden-Harris administration, Venkataraman was a senior director at Visa, leading global government engagement strategy on a range of international policy issues including digital economy, trade, tax and sanctions.

He previously served as trade and investment policy advisor at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he counseled multinational firms and other organizations on e-commerce, intellectual property rights, and U.S. and foreign trade policies. “Arun’s extensive experience across all facets of trade policy-making — domestic and international, negotiation and litigation, legislation and executive action — underpins the unique perspective and creative solutions he offers clients,” reads his Steptoe & Johnson profile. Venkataraman began his career as a law clerk for Judge Jane A. Restani at the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Amartya Sen Receives Spain’s Top ‘Princess of Asturias’ Award

Amartya Kumar Sen, an Indian economist and philosopher who studied the causes of famines, will be recognized with this year’s Princess of Asturias award in the social sciences category, the Spanish foundation behind the prizes announced May 26.The 87-year-old Sen has devoted his career to studying poverty and theories of human development. His 1981 essay on “Entitlement and Deprivation” famously proved that the greatest famines in history took place when food was available but some groups couldn’t access it.

Sen’s theories on a person’s capacity, interacting with the concept of “positive freedom,” or absence of interference, have been incorporated into different social science disciplines and inspired U.N. development plans. Amartya Sen is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until 2004 the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.  He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.  Earlier on he was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University.

Amartya Sen has served as President of the Econometric Society, the American Economic Association, the Indian Economic Association, and the International Economic Association.  He was formerly Honorary President of OXFAM and is now its Honorary Advisor.  His research has ranged over social choice theory, economic theory, ethics and political philosophy, welfare economics, theory of measurement, decision theory, development economics, public health, and gender studies.  Amartya Sen’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Amartya Sen’s awards include Bharat Ratna (India); Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur (France); the National Humanities Medal (USA); Ordem do MeritoCientifico (Brazil); Honorary  Companion of Honour (UK); the Aztec Eagle (Mexico); the Edinburgh Medal (UK); the George Marshall Award (USA); the Eisenhower Medal (USA); and the Nobel Prize in Economics.“His entire intellectual career has contributed in a profound and effective way to promoting justice, freedom and democracy,” the Princess of Asturias award jury wrote in a statement.Sen won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998.

The 50,000-euro award ($61,000) is one of eight prizes, including in the arts, communications and sports, handed out annually by the Asturias Princess Foundation, which is named for Spanish Crown Princess Leonor. The awards are among the most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world. An awards ceremony typically takes place in October in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo.

India’s GDP Plunges By 7.3%

The Covid-induced volatility heavily dented India’s economy in the last fiscal as its growth rate plunged (-) 7.3 per cent in FY 2020-21. Though not comparable, the GDP had grown by 4 per cent in 2019-20.Accordingly, the pandemic-triggered national lockdown (from late March 2020) during Q1FY21 had a massive impact on the economy, which suffered a GDP contraction of 24.4 per cent. It was only on June 1, 2020 that the partial unlock measures were implemented.

However, pent-up demand and gradual opening up of economic activities arrested any other economic pitfall. Nonetheless, the devastating impact on consumer services, urban demand and rising commodity prices had more or less painted a grim economic picture for FY21.The data furnished by the National Statistical Office (NSO) showed that real GDP or Gross Domestic Product at constant (2011-12) prices in 2020-21 attained a level of Rs 135.13 lakh crore, as against the ‘first revised estimate’ of GDP for the year 2019-20 of Rs 145.69 lakh crore.

On the other hand, on sequential basis, India’s economy grew during the fourth quarter, which ended on March 31, 2021, by 1.6 per cent.“‘GDP at Constant (2011-12) Prices in Q4′ of 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 38.96 lakh crore, as against Rs 38.33 lakh crore in Q4 of 2019-20, showing a growth of 1.6 per cent,” according to the GDP estimates released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Besides, the CSO said: “There was a sharp spike from Rs 2.27 lakh crore in BE 2020-21 to Rs 5.95 lakh crore in the revised Estimates for the major subsidies (especially food subsidies) of Centre, presented in Budget 2021-22, in RE 2020-21.”“Revised provision of subsidies of Centre has been considered after adjusting for arrears of previous years and repayment or prepayment of loans, as per information received from Ministry of Finance,” it said.In terms of quarterly Gross Value Added (GVA), the NSO data showed a year-on-year rise of 3.7 per cent from 1 per cent in Q3FY21. The GVA includes taxes, but excludes subsidies.

On a sequential basis, Q4 GVA for 2020-21 from the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors grew 3.1 per cent, against 4.5 per cent in the preceding quarter of 2020-21.The GVA from the manufacturing sector grew 6.9 per cent, as compared to a growth of 1.7 per cent in Q3FY21.Furthermore, mining and quarrying contracted (-)5.7 per cent from (-)4.4 per cent in Q3FY21, while construction activity plunged by 14.5 per cent from 6.5 per cent.

The GVA growth rate of ‘electricity, gas, water supply & other utility services’, ‘trade, hotels, transport, communication and services related to broadcasting’ and ‘public administration, defence and other services’ also increased during this period.Another key growth gauge — Gross Fixed Capital Formation — which underscores the overall acquisition of produced assets in the economy, is estimated to have declined to 10.8 per cent in FY21 at constant (2011-2012) prices.

On yearly basis, the only component that showed growth in FY21 is the government’s final consumption expenditure which grew at 2.9 per cent.The other major components, namely private final consumption expenditure (PFCE), contracted by 9.1 per cent in FY21.“Benefitting from the broad-based surge in volumes, India’s economic growth improved in Q4 FY2021, although the impact of the low base related to the onset of the nationwide lockdown can’t be written off,” said Aditi Nayar, Chief Economist, ICRA.

“Nevertheless, as expected, the Indian economy firmly averted the double dip contraction that had been insinuated by the previously released advance estimates for FY2021,” Nayar said.According to Sunil Kumar Sinha, Principal Economist, India Ratings & Research: “On the supply side, agriculture, as expected, grew at a robust 3.6 per cent in 4QFY21 and 3.6 per cent in FY21. However, the more heartening numbers came from the industrial sector which though contracted by 7 per cent in FY21, its various segments, except mining, witnessed accelerated growth momentum in 4QFY21.

“We must not, however, overlook the fact that a large part of the turnaround witnessed in 3QFY22 and 4QFY22 will get a push back in 1QFY22 due to the second wave of Covid, but the YoY numbers may still look good due to extremely low base of 1QFY21.”

Suman Chowdhury, Chief Analytical Officer, Acuite Ratings & Research: “As expected, agriculture has recorded a healthy GVA growth of 3.6 per cent in FY21 with all the other industrial and service sectors witnessing significant contraction under the severe impact of Covid.“Contact intensive activities such as trade, hotels and transports have recorded a deep contraction of 18.2 per cent given the disruptions and the demand disruption created by the pandemic.” (IANS)

Has India’s Central Bank Changed Its Mind About Cryptocurrencies?

After years of outright dislike for cryptocurrencies, India’s central bank appears to have had a change of heart. On May 31, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) told banks and other financial institutions in the country that they should not cite its 2018 circular that barred them from dealing with cryptocurrencies while cautioning customers against virtual coins. The 2018 circular was struck down by the Supreme Court in March 2020, which made it invalid.

“It has come to our attention through media reports that certain banks/ regulated entities have cautioned their customers against dealing in virtual currencies… by referring to the RBI circular dated April 06, 2018 (pdf). Such references to the above circular by banks/ regulated entities are not in order as this circular was set aside by the supreme court,” the latest RBI circular read.

The cryptocurrency ecosystem in India is interpreting the RBI’s stance as a support for the industry. “This is positive news for the entire crypto industry—businesses, stakeholders, and investors. Investing in crypto has always been 100% legal in India and the new RBI circular clearly confirms the right to do business with crypto firms,” said AvinashShekhar, Co-CEO at ZebPay.

RBI’s cryptocurrency stance

India’s central bank as well as the country’s government have never supported virtual coins. Besides the 2018 circular that nearly stifled the cryptocurrency ecosystem in India, RBI has time and again issued warnings against investments into bitcoins and other virtual coins.

In 2017, India’s then-finance minister ArunJaitley had said the government “does not recognise Bitcoin as legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate the use of these crypto-assets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payments system.”But the central bank perhaps thought it ethical to warn banks against illegally quoting an outdated circular.

RBI’s recent statement came after several leading Indian banks, including the State Bank of India and HDFC Bank, sent emails to their customers warning them against the use of cryptocurrency. The banks cited RBI’s 2018 circular in these emails stating that users who deal in virtual currencies may face account suspension.There have also been reports that WazirX, India’s largest cryptocurrency bourse, faced many issues with financial transactions with its banking partners due to the confusion related to the RBI’s earlier notification.

“The crypto industry has been facing a lot of issues when it comes to using formal banking channels for trades and this circular will clear the air. RBI’s stance on crypto asset trading was not changed since the supreme court order in March 2020 and it was highly unpleasant to see banks pulling the plug on crypto exchanges which impacted millions of investors across the country,” said ShivamThakral, CEO of BuyUcoin, a Delhi-based cryptocurrency exchange.

‘Born Digital’ Indian Workers Want 4-Day Week Amid Pandemic

More than three in four young Indian workers believe that employers should offer the opportunity to work a four-day week to promote employee well-being post-pandemic, a new report said on Wednesday.Made up of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and Generation Z (born after 1997) workers, the ‘Born Digital’ are the first generation to grow up in an entirely digital world, and now account for most of the global workforce.

According to the report by desktop virtualisation leader Citrix, ‘Born Digital’ employees in India (76 per cent) prefer to retain a remote or hybrid work model post-pandemic.Nearly 86 per cent of ‘Born Digital’ employees in India believe that the pandemic has shown that their organisation needs to invest more in digital technology, compared to 16 per cent of business leaders.

“These young employees are different from previous generations in that they have only ever known a tech-driven world of work,” said Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Citrix.“To shore up their future business success, companies must understand their values, career aspirations and working styles and invest in their development,” Kimmel said in a statement.

A striking 90 per cent of ‘Born Digital’ in India expect employers to have a better understanding of family commitments, compared to the global average of 74 per cent.Also, 92 per cent of ‘Born Digital’ workers in India say they would prioritise employee well-being as they advance in their career.

“Younger workers in India are most focused on career stability and security (94 per cent), opportunities for additional qualifications, training, or re-skilling (93 per cent), and access to quality workplace technology (92 per cent),” the Citrix findings showed.Leaders in the country, on the other hand, think young workers prioritise a competitive remuneration package and job satisfaction over all other work factors.

“Successfully attracting and retaining the Born Digital will require organisations to invest in the work model and tools to create the flexible, efficient and engaged work environment that this next generation of leaders craves and thrives in,” said Tim Minahan, Executive Vice President of Business Strategy, Citrix. (IANS)

China Allows 3 Kids Per Couple

China’s ruling Communist Party has said, it will ease birth limits to allow all couples to have three children instead of two in hopes of slowing the rapid aging of its population, which is adding to strains on the economy and society.The ruling party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worries the number of working-age people is falling too fast while the share over age 65 is rising. That threatens to disrupt its ambitions to transform China into a prosperous consumer society and global technology leader.

A ruling party meeting led by President Xi Jinping decided to introduce “measures to actively deal with the aging population,” the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said leaders agreed ”implementing the policy of one couple can have three children and supporting measures are conducive to improving China’s population structure.”Leaders also agreed China needs to raise its retirement age to keep more people in the workforce and improve pension and health services for the elderly, Xinhua said.

Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were eased in 2015 to allow two, but the total number of births fell further, suggesting rule changes on their own have little impact on the trend.Couples say they are put off by high costs of raising a child, disruption to their jobs and the need to look after elderly parents.Comments on social media Monday complained the change does nothing to help young parents with medical bills, low incomes and grueling work schedules known popularly as “996,” or 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.

“Every stage of the problem hasn’t been solved,” said a post on the popular Sina Weibo blog service signed Tchaikovsky. “Who will raise the baby? Do you have time? I go out early and get back late. Kids don’t know what their parents look like.”Another, signed Hyeongmok, joked bitterly: “Don’t worry about aging. Our generation won’t live long.”

China, along with Thailand and some other Asian economies, faces what economists call the challenge of whether they can get rich before they get old.The Chinese population of 1.4 billion already was expected to peak later this decade and start to decline. Census data released May 11 suggest that is happening faster than expected, adding to burdens on underfunded pension and health systems and cutting the number of future workers available to support a growing retiree group.

The share of working-age people 15 to 59 in the population fell to 63.3% last year from 70.1% a decade earlier. The group aged 65 and older grew to 13.5% from 8.9%. The 12 million births reported last year was down nearly one-fifth from 2019.About 40% were second children, down from 50% in 2017, according to Ning Jizhe, a statistics official who announced the data on May 11.

Chinese researchers and the Labor Ministry say the share of working-age people might fall to half the population by 2050. That increases the “dependency ratio,” or the number of retirees who rely on each worker to generate income for pension funds and to pay taxes for health and other public services.Leaders at Monday’s meeting agreed it is “necessary to steadily implement the gradual postponement of the legal retirement age,” Xinhua said.It gave no details, but the government has been debating raising the official retirement ages of 60 for men, 55 for white-collar female workers and 50 for blue-collar female workers.

The potential change is politically fraught. Some female professionals welcome a chance to stay in satisfying careers, but others whose bodies are worn out from decades of manual labor resent being required to work longer.The fertility rate, or the average number of births per mother, stood at 1.3 in 2020, well below the 2.1 that would maintain the size of the population.

China’s birth rate, paralleling trends in other Asian economies, already was falling before the one-child rule. The average number of children per Chinese mother tumbled from above six in the 1960s to below three by 1980, according to the World Bank.Demographers say official birth limits concealed what would have been a further fall in the number of children per family without the restrictions.The ruling party says it prevented as many as 400 million potential births, averting shortages of food and water. But demographers say if China followed trends in Thailand, parts of India and other countries, the number of additional babies might have been as low as a few million.

Indian Origin Reuben Brothers Are 2nd Richest In UK

The Sunday Times, UK, reported this year’s Rich List that identifies a record 171 UK billionaires — 24 more than in 2020. That is the biggest jump in the 33 years The Sunday Times has been tracking the fortunes of the UK’s most affluent people. The combined fortunes of the billionaires in this Rich List grew by nearly 22 per cent to 597.269 billion pound.The richest person on the list is Sir Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born businessman who made his money from energy and aluminium groups in the former Soviet Union. He earlier topped the list in 2015.

Mumbai born brothers David and Simon Reuben were listed as Britain’s second-wealthiest, with a combined fortune of 21.5 billion pound.Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal climbed up in the list from No.19 last year to No.5 this year, Mittal, has seen net increase by 7.899 billion to 14.68 billion pound.

Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja and family have fallen in the rankings from No.1 in 2019, to No.2 in 2020, down to No.3 this year. The family’s net increased by 1 billion, to 17 billion pound.Chronicle Live UK reported would-be Newcastle United owners David and Simon Reuben’s fortune has risen by an astonishing 5 billion during the last year as they maintained their place as the second richest people in the UK.

The Reubens would only be part owners of United in the deal proposed by Amanda Staveley but their wealth, combined with that of Saudi PIF, would make Newcastle financial powerhouses if the deal can be resurrected through either arbitration or various court cases.The Times reported the Reubens as going on a “spending spree” during the last year, snapping up buildings at far below market value. They spent $150million on Manhattan hotel The Surrey — and have “snapped up undervalued hotels and other properties”, in particular in the US. (IANS)

Big Tech Firms Seek Creative Ways To Deal With Hybrid Work Paradox

Admitting that hybrid work paradox is here to stay amid the pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has outlined a detailed approach about how his company is going to tackle the biggest shift to global workplace that requires a new operating model, spanning people, places and processes.

As some countries open and others like India and Brazil face their worst pandemic days, Nadella said that every organization’s approach will need to be different to meet the unique needs of their people. “According to our research, the vast majority of employees say they want more flexible remote work options, but at the same time also say they want more in-person collaboration, post-pandemic. This is the hybrid work paradox,” Nadella said in a blog post.He outlined three areas for Microsoft for hybrid work.

“First, we are moving all employees off corporate networks and taking an internet-first approach. An internet-first approach reduces exposure and gives employees a consistent experience whether they are at home or in the office,” Nadella informed.

“Second, at home, we are asking all employees who continue to work remotely, either full or part time, to run a test of their home networks to ensure they are secure”.

He then emphasized on device security. “All corporate resources will be managed so that you have secure, trusted access. Whether employees are at home or in the office, we will require that every mobile device that needs to access corporate resources is managed. This includes a company-wide rollout of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint,” Nadella noted.
On people, Microsoft said it is prioritizing three things: social capital, knowledge capital and human capital. “The second area that will undergo transformation is places. In this new era of hybrid work, we will no longer rely solely on shared physical location or a campus to collaborate, connect, or build social capital. But that doesn’t mean physical places and spaces aren’t important. They will just need to be re-imagined,” the Microsoft CEO explained.
Every business process will be impacted by the move to hybrid, and every business function will need to transform. “From product development and manufacturing, to marketing, sales, customer service, and facilities, HR, and IT, every business process will need to be adjusted,” he added.

Reiterating that his home country India as well as Brazil are going through their most difficult moments of the pandemic, Alphabet and Google CEO SundarPichai has laid down a detailed roadmap on how the future of work will unfold for millions across the globe.Kicking off the I/O Developers Conference from the Mountain View campus late on Tuesday, Pichai said that Covid-19 has deeply affected the entire global community over the past year and continues to take a toll.

“Places such as Brazil, and my home country of India, are now going through their most difficult moments of the pandemic yet. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by COVID and we are all hoping for better days ahead,” he stressed.Pichai said that the company continues to build a more helpful Google, for everyone.
“One of the biggest ways we can help is by reimagining the future of work. Over the last year, we’ve seen work transform in unprecedented ways, as offices and coworkers have been replaced by kitchen countertops and pets,” he noted.

“Many companies, including ours, will continue to offer flexibility even when it’s safe to be in the same office again. Collaboration tools have never been more critical, and today we announced a new smart canvas experience in Google Workspace that enables even richer collaboration,” Pichai told the virtual audience of over 2,00,000 people.
He informed that there are 150 million students and educators learning virtually over the last year with Google Classroom.“Other times it’s about helping in little moments that add up to big changes for everyone. For example, we’re introducing safer routing in Maps. This AI-powered capability in Maps can identify road, weather and traffic conditions where you are likely to brake suddenly; our aim is to reduce up to 100 million events like this every year,” he said.

Stressing on the role of AI, Pichai said the company has used the technology to improve the core Search experience for billions of people by taking a huge leap forward in a computer’s ability to process natural language. “Yet, there are still moments when computers just don’t understand us. That’s because language is endlessly complex: We use it to tell stories, crack jokes and share ideas � weaving in concepts we’ve learned over the course of our lives. The richness and flexibility of language make it one of humanity’s greatest tools and one of computer science’s greatest challenges,” Pichai elaborated.He then introduced latest research in natural language understanding: LaMDA.

LaMDA is a language model for dialogue applications. It’s open domain, which means it is designed to converse on any topic.“We’re focused on ensuring LaMDA meets our incredibly high standards on fairness, accuracy, safety and privacy, and that it is developed consistently with our AI Principles,” he added.

Several years ago, Google kicked off a project called Project Starline to use technology to explore what’s possible.Using high-resolution cameras and custom-built depth sensors, it captures your shape and appearance from multiple perspectives, and then fuses them together to create an extremely detailed, real-time 3D model.

“The resulting data is many gigabits per second, so to send an image this size over existing networks, we developed novel compression and streaming algorithms that reduce the data by a factor of more than 100,” said Pichai. (IANS)

Home Prices Across US Hit High

Home prices in the US continued to climb in April, reaching new highs and rising at the fastest pace on record.  The median sale price was a record $341,600 in April, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. It was the highest median price since NAR began tracking this data in 1999. The median price, which includes existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, was up a record 19% from a year ago.

Looking only at single family homes, prices were up 20% from last year, the fastest price appreciation since NAR began tracking those prices in the early 1970s. Homes are selling in a record fast 17 days, according to NAR, and an overwhelming 88% of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month. Stiffer competition, especially from a growing number of all-cash buyers, is squeezing many first-time buyers out of the market.

“First-time buyers in particular are having trouble securing that first home for a multitude of reasons, including not enough affordable properties, competition with cash buyers and properties leaving the market at such a rapid pace,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Much of that price gain was propelled by competition. For every listing, there were an average of five offers, according to Yun. And a quarter of all buyers are making all cash offers, up from 23% in March and just 15% a year ago. The price gain and increase in all-cash offers is no surprise given the imbalance of supply and demand, said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers Association’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.”In the short-term, inventory shortages will persist,” he said. “The insufficient level of inventory amidst fierce competition is putting upward pressure on home prices in most parts of the country.”

Low inventory is limiting sales

While more inventory came on the market in April compared to March, by the end of April total housing inventory was down 21% from one year ago, and still sits at near-record lows.The low inventory of homes continues to not only push prices higher but is also bringing the number of sales down, according to the report.Sales dropped 2.7% in April from March, the third straight month of decline.But don’t start thinking the market is cooling off, said Yun. Demand is still strong.

“Despite the decline, housing demand is still strong compared to one year ago, evidenced by home sales from this January to April, which are up 20% compared to 2020,” said Yun.Sales were up 34% from a year ago, but comparing last month with April 2020 is a bit distorted. By April of last year, many parts of the country were shut down because of the pandemic and real estate transactions came to a near standstill.But the seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.85 million homes sold in April is 11% above the annualized rate for April of 2019.

Yun said that if there were 20% more homes available, real estate agents could sell 20% more homes, it is the low inventory that is holding sales back.

“Bringing supply and demand into a better balance is still months away, and perhaps several years away, due to high prices and a reluctance to move by some homeowners due to Covid 19,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“High prices not only slow sales, but they make downsizing difficult for many older Americans who were looking forward to making a big profit on the sale of their existing home and moving into a cheaper, downsized home,” Frick said. “High housing prices have spread to many more cities around the country, and that’s making downsizing to a smaller home not the financial slam-dunk it was even a couple years ago.”

Buyers getting squeezed out

Yun anticipates the housing market will normalize a bit as the year progresses, especially as more supply becomes available.”We’ll see more inventory come to the market later this year as further Covid-19 vaccinations are administered and potential home sellers become more comfortable listing and showing their homes,” said Yun. “The falling number of homeowners in mortgage forbearance will also bring about more inventory.”

In addition, home builders are building, although US Census Bureau data from earlier this week showed residential housing starts have begun to slow because of challenges in the cost and availability of building materials.But even as more supply comes in to meet the high demand, that demand may cool as some buyers become frustrated.”Some of the buyers will be squeezed out because high home prices are hurting affordability,” said Yun.

In addition, mortgage rates, which have been at record lows, are trending up, with Yun forecasting rates will reach 3.5% by year’s end.”The general direction is toward more claiming of the market from its current frenzy,” said Yun.

BAPS Temple In New Jersey Alleged To Have Exploited Workers

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that more than 200 workers — many or all of whom don’t speak English — were coerced into signing employment agreements in India to build expansion of the largest Hindu Temple by BAPS in the US on the 100-acre site in New Jersey

A lawsuit filed in federal court last week alleges the builders of a New Jersey Hindu temple — considered to be one the largest in the United States — lured workers from India, worked them nearly 90 hours per week and paid them around $1.20 per hour.

The lawsuit accuses the leaders of the Hindu organization known as BochasanwasiAksharPurushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or a Hindu sect known as BAPS, and the leaders who run the Robbinsville temple and its construction. The temple opened in 2014 and is constructed entirely of Italian marble that was sculpted in India and completed on site off Route 130 in Robbinsville. The ongoing construction on the BAPS Temple in Robbinsville began in 2010, and the site has caught the attention of state and federal authorities in recent years.

BAPS has been accused of human trafficking and wage law violations. An FBI spokesperson confirmed that agents were at the temple on “court-authorized law enforcement activity,” but wouldn’t elaborate. One of the attorneys who filed the suit said some workers had been removed from the site May 11.The lawsuit has been filed a month after New Jersey labor authorities halted work by a contractor at the Robbinsville temple and at a BAPS temple in Edison. The new lawsuit is a proposed class action complaint, alleging around 200 workers on religious immigration visas endured forced manual labor for the ongoing construction and expansion of the religious property on the 100-acre site.

The lawsuit says more than 200 workers — many or all of whom don’t speak English — were coerced into signing employment agreements in India. They traveled to New Jersey under R-1 visas, which are meant for “those who minister, or work in religious vocations or occupations,” according to the lawsuit.When they arrived, the lawsuit says, their passports were taken away and they were forced to work at the temple from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with few days off, for about $450 per month, a rate that the suit said came out to around $1.20 per hour. Of that, the workers allegedly only received $50 in cash per month, with the rest deposited into their accounts in India.

The lawsuit said workers lived in a fenced-in compound where their movements were monitored by cameras and guards. They were told that if they left, police would arrest them because they didn’t have their passports, the suit said. The lawsuit names Patel and several individuals described as having supervised the workers. It seeks unpaid wages and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages

According to the lawsuit, the exploited workers were Dalits — members of the lowest step of South Asia’s caste hierarchy. D.B. Sagar, president of the Washington-based International Commission for Dalit Rights, told The Associated Press that Dalits are an easy target for exploitation because they’re the poorest people in India. “They need something to survive, to protect their family,” Sagar — a Dalit himself — said, adding that if the allegations in the lawsuit are true, they amount to “modern-day slavery.”

BAPS CEO Kanu Patel, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told The New York Times, “I respectfully disagree with the wage claim.” A spokesperson for the organization, Matthew Frankel, told The Associated Press that BAPS was first made aware of the accusations early Tuesday morning. “We are taking them very seriously and thoroughly reviewing the issues raised,” he said.

BAPS is a global sect of Hinduism founded in the early 20th century and aims to “preserve Indian culture and the Hindu ideals of faith, unity, and selfless service,” according to its website. The organization says it has built more than 1,100 mandirs — often large complexes that essentially function as community centers. BAPS is known for community service and philanthropy, taking an active role in the diaspora’s initiative to help India amid the current COVID-19 surge. According to the website for the Robbinsville mandir, its construction “is the epitome of volunteerism.”“Volunteers of all ages have devoted their time and resources from the beginning: assisting in the construction work, cleaning up around the site, preparing food for all the artisans on a daily basis and helping with other tasks,” the website says. “A total of 4.7 million man hours were required by craftsman and volunteers to complete the Mandir.”

The case was filed on behalf of five men described in the court papers as Dalits from Rajasthan, who had worked at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville.Their 42-page case document, alleges that they were made to work at the temple for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week with days off only occasionally for which they were paid less than $1.20 an hour – an amount far less than the state minimum wage that was $10 in 2019 and $11 in 2020.Their court papers, however, say that they were instructed while applying for their visa to tell the U.S. embassy staff that they were going to the U.S. for “volunteer work at the temple” and “would be performing the work as a service to the deities” even though they assert that they were not members of BAPS.

According to the court document, although they came to the U.S. with an R-1 visa, which is granted to missionaries and religious workers, they did not perform any religious work and instead were made to do “dangerous” manual work at the temple. The men filing the case are Mukesh Kumar, Keshav Kumar, Devi Laal, Niranjan, Pappu, and Brajendra.The New York Times reported that BAPS spokesperson Lenin Joshi said, “We are naturally shaken by this turn of events and are sure that once the full facts come out, we will be able to provide answers and show that these accusations and allegations are without merit.”

Indian American Business Leaders Named To Global Task Force OnPandemic

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce May 5 announced the formation of the Global Task Force on Pandemic Response, which includes numerous Indian American company executives. The public-private partnership will provide immediate assistance to India and will assist in coordinating relief to respond to COVID-19 surges, according to the news release.

Among the members of the taskforce include Alphabet Inc. chief executive SundarPichai, Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayan, Deloitte CEO PunitRenjen, FedEx chief operating officer and director Raj Subramaniam, IBM chair and CEO Arvind Krishna, and VMware chief operating officer Sanjay Poonen.The group also includes Apple CEO Tim Cook, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta and Mastercard CEO Michael Miebach, among others. The Task Force will coordinate a coalition of corporations, non-profits and individual efforts to organize relief where it is needed most.

The task force is working with the Chamber’s U.S.-India Business Council and the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum to take three immediate actions to help address the COVID-19 surge in India.Sourcing, shipping and delivering 1,000 Puritan Bennett ventilators desperately needed by healthcare facilities across India. The first ventilators procured by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation have arrived, with all remaining ventilators expected to arrive by June 3. Medtronic will manufacture the ventilators and handle end-to-end shipping, installation and ongoing and virtual training, the release said.

It is also delivering 25,000 oxygen concentrators to India by the end of May, with transportation support from FedEx, it said. Additionally, it is creating the chief human resources officer India Action Group to provide ideas and practical information to CHROs to help their people in India.

The Global Task Force on Pandemic Response was launched to provide a unified platform for businesses to mobilize and deliver resources to assist COVID-19 efforts in areas of the highest need around the world, the release said.Initial efforts will focus on the pressing need for support in India, with more than 400,000 cases reported on May 1 alone. Through its Steering Committee, the Task Force will work to concentrate efforts where corporate support will be most beneficial, with additional countries to be determined in consultation with the U.S. government, the chamber adds.

The Global Task Force is working in close collaboration with U.S. and Indian government officials to share information and coordinate efforts. This includes regular briefings with the Modi and Biden Administrations, U.S. Congress, U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The coalition of leading companies, non-profits and associations that have come together to support these actions include Accenture, Adobe, Amazon, American Express, Amway, Apple, Applied Materials Foundation, Bank of America, BCG, Citi, David & Carol Van Andel Family Foundation, Dell, Deloitte, Dow, Ernst & Young, Emerson, Facebook, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, John Chambers Foundation, Johnson Controls, JP Morgan Chase & Co, KKR, Lockheed Martin, Mastercard, McCormick & Company, McKinsey & Company, Medtronic, Merck, Microsoft, Nasdaq, Newsweek, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Qualcomm Foundation, Raytheon Technologies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, VIAVI Solutions, VMware, Walmart and Zoom.

USCIS Temporarily Suspends Biometrics Requirement For Certain Form I-539 Applicants

Effective May 17, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will temporarily suspend the biometrics submission requirement for certain applicants filing Form I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, requesting an extension of stay in or change of status to H-4, L-2, and E nonimmigrant status.

In a May 13, 2021, notification (uscis.gov), the agency said it will allow adjudications for those specific categories to proceed based on biographic information and related background checks, without capturing fingerprints and a photograph.This suspension will apply through May 17, 2023, subject to affirmative extension or revocation of the suspension period by the USCIS director.

This temporary suspension will apply to applicants filing Form I-539 requesting the following:

  • Extension of stay in or change of status to H-4 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to L-2 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-2 nonimmigrant status (including E-2C (E-2 CNMI Investor)); or
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-3 nonimmigrant status (including those selecting E-3D).
  • This suspension will apply only to the above categories of Form I-539 applications that are either:
  • Pending as of May 17, 2021, and have not yet received a biometric services appointment notice; or
  • New applications postmarked or submitted electronically on or after May 17, 2021.

However, the agency clarified that it retains discretion on a case-by-case basis to require biometrics for applicants who meet the criteria above, and any applicant may be scheduled for an application support center (ASC) appointment to submit biometrics.Nevertheless, it said that Form I-539 applicants who have already received a biometric services appointment notice should still attend their scheduled appointment.

Effective May 17, 2021, Form I-539 applicants meeting the criteria above are not required to submit the $85 biometric services fee for Form I-539 during the suspension period. USCIS will return a biometric services fee if submitted separately from the base fee. For more details visit uscis.gov/news/In another notification, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the Department of Homeland Security is withdrawing a 2018 notice of proposed rulemaking that proposed to remove the International Entrepreneur program from DHS regulations.

The International Entrepreneur (IE) parole program, first introduced in 2017, will remain a viable program for foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop start-up entities with high growth potential in the United States. The program will help to strengthen and grow our nation’s economy through increased capital spending, innovation, and job creation.

Today’s announcement is consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order 14012: “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” The executive order requires the secretary of homeland security to “identify any agency actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system.”

“Immigrants in the United States have a long history of entrepreneurship, hard work, and creativity, and their contributions to this nation are incredibly valuable,” said Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. “The International Entrepreneur parole program goes hand-in-hand with our nation’s spirit of welcoming entrepreneurship and USCIS encourages those who are eligible to take advantage of the program.”

The initial IE final rule was published on Jan. 17, 2017, and was scheduled to take effect on July 17, 2017. This final rule guided DHS in the use of its parole authority to grant a period of authorized stay, on a case-by-case basis, to foreign entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the potential for rapid business growth and job creation.

Prior to the effective date, DHS published a final rule to delay the implementation date of the IE final rule to March 14, 2018. This allowed DHS additional time to draft and seek public comments on a proposal to rescind the IE final rule. However, in December 2017, a federal court vacated the delay, requiring USCIS to begin accepting international entrepreneur parole applications consistent with the IE final rule. Since then, the program has been up and running, and USCIS continues to accept and adjudicate applications consistent with existing DHS regulations.

Under the IE program, parole may be granted to up to three entrepreneurs per start-up entity, as well as their spouses and children. Entrepreneurs granted parole are eligible to work only for their start-up business. Their spouses may apply for employment authorization in the United States, but their children are not eligible for such authorization based on this parole. Additional information on eligibility and how to apply is available on the International Entrepreneur Parole page. USCIS will plan information sessions and other outreach activities to ensure foreign entrepreneurs are aware of this opportunity and how to pursue it.

Reliance Is One Of The Fastest Growing Retailer In The World

Reliance Retail ranks 53rd in the list of Global Powers of Retailing by Deloitte, improves from 56th earlier. It remains the 2nd fastest growing retailer in the world despite the base effect of being No.1 last year.

Reliance Retail features consecutively for the 4th time in the list of Global Powers of Retailing and World’s Fastest Retailers. Reliance Retail, last year’s Fastest 50 leader, dropped to second place. The company recorded YoY growth of 41.8%, driven primarily by a 13.1% increase in the number of stores in its consumer electronics, fashion and lifestyle and grocery retail chains, to 11,784 stores across 7,000 plus towns and cities in India at fiscal year end.

E-commerce is a second growth driver, through both digital commerce (B2C) and B2B. The company is partnering with WhatsApp to further accelerate Reliance Retail’s digital commerce business on the JioMart platform using WhatsApp and to support small businesses on WhatsApp.

Reliance Retail acquired the 29 stores of Shri Kannan Departmental Store at the end of FY2019 and in August 2020 announced it would acquire Future Group’s retail, wholesale and logistics units for $3.4 billion.

When fully approved, the deal will almost double Reliance Retail’s store space.82 Reliance Retail also made two e-commerce acquisitions in 2020, buying Vitalic Health and its online pharmacy platform Netmeds in August, and a 96% stake in online home decor company UrbanLadder in November.

Walmart has led the list of the world’s Top 250 global retailers for over 20 years. The company registered YoY FY2019 retail revenue growth of 1.9%, fueled mainly by growth in comparable store sales in the United States.

Amazon becomes the number two global retailer, pushing Costco down to third place. Top 10 retailers focus on core markets, withdrawing from some international markets There were no new entrants to the Top 10 list in FY2019, which continues to be dominated by players based in the United States. The only mover was Amazon, which has risen in the rankings every year since its entry in tenth place in FY2015. (IANS)

Telemedicine Market to Reach US$ 202.8 Billion by 2027 Globally

A comprehensive overview of the Telemedicine market is recently added by UnivDatos Market Insights to its humongous database. The Telemedicine market report has been aggregated by collecting informative data of various dynamics such as market drivers, restraints, and opportunities. This innovative report makes use of several analyses to get a closer outlook on the Telemedicine market. The Telemedicine market report offers a detailed analysis of the latest industry developments and trending factors in the market that are influencing the market growth. Furthermore, this statistical market research repository examines and estimates the Telemedicine market at the global and regional level. Global Telemedicine Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.5% during the forecast period of 2021-27.
Market Overview

Telemedicine is the distribution of healthcare facilities, anywhere distance is a perilous aspect. It is provided by health care professionals via technologies. This information is converted for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention of disease or injuries through research and evaluation, and at last, the results are provided to patients. For instance, in 2016, Maryland, Frederick Memorial Hospital’s virtual healthcare podium amplified the rate of patient care by 50%. Also, as per the Virtual Care blog, Telemedicine contributes almost one-fourth of the health IT market, which was about USD 15.6 billion in 2014 and it upsurged to nearly USD 20 billion by 2019. Moreover, the patients and healthcare professionals are shifting towards telemedicine due to their ease of operations, cost and time savings, etc.

Telemedicine gives a progressive outlook for the preservation of records and documentation of patient’s health. It minimizes the possibility of missing out on any advice from doctors or other healthcare professionals. Owing to this, the doctors have an exact document of the advice provided by them through teleconsultation. This provides legal protection to both the parties including the patient and healthcare professionals. Furthermore, according to the American Journal of Accountable Care, the routine of telemedicine permits improved long-term care of administration and patient gratification. In addition, the Geisinger Health-Plan study stated that the execution of a telemedicine program produced about 11% in cost savings. This directs the arrival of more investment in telemedicine.
COVID-19 Impact

The sudden outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic has fetched the entire world to a stoppage. As hospitals are getting occupied with COVID-19 cases, the burden on healthcare staff witnessed a significant rise. Currently, Telemedicine has appeared as a defendant in the combat against the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the patients are using virtual visit facilities for their safety. For instance, Teladoc Health Inc. reported a 60% intensification in the number of virtual sessions and reached 2 million in just three months from January to March 2020, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. Also, according to the Vidyo Telehealth Adoption Survey 2019, 46% of surveyed health care benefactors (hospitals and clinics) practice live videoconferencing, and 41% practice Remote Patient Monitoring for medical care. The Store-and-Forward province is third with 26%.  These statistics indicate that virtual assessments are likely to become a more promising part of patient care.

Telemedicine Market report is studied thoroughly with several aspects that would help stakeholders in making their decisions more curated.
The Tele-consulting segment generated more than 45% revenue in 2020. The market is expected to grow at a significant rate during the forecast period as it allows patients to have an appointment with experts at any time, without any waiting period.
Competitive Landscape

The degree of competition among prominent global companies has been elaborated by analyzing several leading key players operating worldwide. The specialist team of research analysts sheds light on various traits such as global market competition, market share, most recent industry advancements, innovative product launches, partnerships, mergers, or acquisitions by leading companies in the Telemedicine market. The major players have been analyzed by using research methodologies for getting insight views on global competition.

Key questions resolved through this analytical market research report include:
What are the latest trends, new patterns, and technological advancements in the Telemedicine market?
Which factors are influencing the Telemedicine market over the forecast period?
What are the global challenges, threats, and risks in the Telemedicine market?
Which factors are propelling and restraining the Telemedicine market?
What are the demanding global regions of the Telemedicine market?
What will be the global market size in the upcoming years?
What are the crucial market acquisition strategies and policies applied by global companies?

We understand the requirement of different businesses, regions, and countries, we offer customized reports as per your requirements of business nature and geography. Please let us know If you have any custom needs
For more informative information, please visit us @ https://univdatos.com/report/telemedicine-market-current-analysis-and-forecast-2021-2027

About UnivDatos Market Insights
UnivDatos Market Insights (UMI) is a passionate market research firm and a subsidiary of Universal Data Solutions. We believe in delivering insights through Market Intelligence Reports, Customized Business Research, and Primary Research. Our research studies are spread across topics across the world, we cover markets in over 100 countries using smart research techniques and agile methodologies. We offer in-depth studies, detailed analysis, and customized reports that help shape winning business strategies for our clients.

Indian Students To Benefit As Canada Offers Residency To 90,000

Indian students will be the major beneficiaries of Canada’s new one-time immigration program which opened for applications last week. Under the program, over 90,000 international students and temporary essential workers, already in Canada, will be given permanent residence (PR).

Under it, 40,000 international students, 30,000 temporary workers in selected essential occupations and 20,000 temporary workers in health care will get permanent residence. To be eligible, international students must have completed a post-secondary programme in Canada in the last four years.

Foreign workers must have at least one year of Canadian work experience in a health care profession or another pre-approved essential occupation. Indian students will benefit proportionately more than others as they – numbering 220,000 last year – make up more than a third of all foreign students currently in Canada. Before the pandemic closed international travel, Canada had planned to admit 341,000 immigrants in 2020.

The new PR program aims at making up for the shortfall in immigration numbers in 2020 by prioritizing those already in Canada. Moreover, a record 401,000 new immigrants will be admitted in 2021.

Highlighting the significance of Wednesday’s programme, Immigration minister Marco Mendicino said, “The pandemic has shone a bright light on the contributions of newcomers in essential jobs, as we have recognized the caregivers, cooks and cashiers as our everyday heroes. With this new pathway, we are recognizing their key role in our economic recovery, allowing them to set down roots in Canada and help us build back better. Our message to them is simple: your status may be temporary, but your contributions are lasting-and we want you to stay.” (IANS)

US Mortgage Rates Down Slightly; 30-Year At 2.96%

Mortgage rates fell slightly this week, marking their third straight week below 3% amid signs of the recovering economy’s strength.  Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average for the benchmark 30-year home-loan rate eased to 2.96% from 2.98% last week. At this time last year, the long-term rate was 3.26%. The rate for a 15-year loan, popular among those seeking to refinance, slipped to 2.30% from 2.31% last week.

Lower rates are always good news for potential homebuyers and homeowners looking to refinance. But just how much is a .1% drop worth if you’re in the market for a new mortgage?

About $16 a month — that’s how much you could save for every reduction of .1% in the mortgage rate, according to data from NextAdvisor’s home affordability calculator. For a 30-year fixed rate $300,000 mortgage, each .1% drop would save about $6,000 in interest over the life of the loan.

These can be helpful figures to keep in mind, especially as rates continue to be volatile. Mortgage rates have gone up or down by 0.05% or more in 7 of 15 weeks so far in 2021, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly rate survey. Rates are just one factor to consider when deciding if it makes sense to buy a home or refinance a current mortgage, but it’s good to know the numbers when you follow the movement week to week.

Experts expect mortgage rates will increase this year. If you delay refinancing, or are in the market for a new home, steadily increasing rates can make a big impact to your bottom line over time.

Let’s say you’re considering a 30-year $300,000 mortgage. As of this week, 30-year mortgage rates are averaging 3.04%. Here’s what it would cost if we saw four increases of at least 0.05%, which we’ve already seen five times this year:

Loan Term Loan Amount Mortgage Rate Payment Total Interest
30 Years $300,000 2.99% $1,263 $154,793
30 Years $300,000 3.04% $1,271 $157,732
30 Years $300,000 3.09% $1,279 $160,689
30 Years $300,000 3.14% $1,287 $163,664
30 Years $300,000 3.19% $1,295 $166,658
30 Years $300,000 3.24% $1,303 $169,671

Each 0.05% interest rate uptick increases your monthly payment by approximately $8 and adds nearly $3,000 in interest over the full 30-year loan term. You can run these numbers on a new mortgage of any amount using our mortgage calculator, by changing the rate in increments of .05%.

Of course, any decrease of .05% or more will decrease your payment and interest with a new mortgage, though that’s only happened in 2 of 15 weeks so far this year. While experts don’t expect to see a long-term trend of decreases, every .05% drop saves you $8 per payment, and nearly $3,000 interest over the life of the loan.

When mortgage rates go up or down, it typically has a bigger impact on whether or not it makes sense to refinance. Lower rates make it easier to save money by lowering your monthly payment without extending your mortgage’s repayment term. As interest rates rise, it makes sense for fewer people to refinance because it’s harder to offset the upfront costs if you’re saving less month to month.

For a homebuyer, there are more considerations that impact the cost of purchasing a home than just your mortgage rate. As rates increase, buyers are more likely to offer less or look for lower-priced homes. And the opposite is true when mortgage rates drop. We’ve seen historically low mortgage rates, along with low housing inventory, combine to create a surge in home prices in recent months.

3 Things to Know, Regardless of Where Mortgage Rates Are

You may not have any control over the market forces that influence mortgage rates, but regardless of where rates move there are a few things you should always do before you apply for any type of mortgage, whether to buy or refinance.

1. Do the math

When you refinance an existing mortgage, the main goal is typically to save money, usually by securing a smaller monthly payment or saving on interest with a shorter loan term or lower interest rate. But a mortgage refinance costs money, usually 3% to 6% in upfront closing costs. So you should be sure you’ll be in the house long enough to offset those fees. For example, if your refinance fees are $9,000 and you’re saving $200 a month, it will take 45 months – almost 4 years – to save enough to offset the cost of refinancing.

With a home purchase, you need to make sure the monthly payment you’re committing to is affordable. The bank might be willing to lend you far more than what can comfortably fit into your budget. Depending on the type of mortgage, a lender may allow you to have a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of over 50%. But your DTI doesn’t factor in every monthly expense and it’s also based on your gross monthly income, or what you make before taxes. So groceries, gas, and taxes won’t increase your DTI, but you still have to pay them every month. A good rule of thumb is your total debts shouldn’t account for more than 36% of your pre-tax monthly income.

2. Don’t try to time the market

Mortgage rates vary from one moment to the next and from lender to lender. Even if economic indicators can give us a good idea of the prevailing mortgage rate trends, there is no way to accurately know where they’ll move from day to day or week to week.

So don’t bother stressing about whether or not you’re getting the best rate ever. If now is the right time to buy a house and the payments will be affordable in the long-term, then go for. And if the numbers make sense for you to refinance, then don’t hesitate because you’re concerned that rates might decrease tomorrow.

3. Do look at your overall financial situation

Refinancing or buying a home aren’t decisions made in a bubble. So you need to take a broad view of your finances. Refinancing may save you hundreds a month, but would it be better to take the money you’re putting toward the closing costs and pay off your high-interest credit card debt? If you’re looking to buy your own place, how long do you plan to live there? If you need to move cities in two or three years, purchasing a home may not be the best move. The cost of taking out a mortgage and moving into a new home are likely to outweigh the potential gains in equity, which are typically small the first few years of home ownership.

World Military Spending Rises to a Hefty $2.0 Trillion Despite UN Pleas for Cutbacks

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2021 (IPS) – The United Nations– which is desperately seeking funds to help developing nations battling a staggering array of socio-economic problems, including extreme poverty, hunger, economic inequalities and environmental hazards– has continued to be one of the strongest advocates of disarmament.

The world body has relentlessly campaigned for reduced military spending in an attempt to help divert some of these resources into sustainable development and humanitarian assistance.

But according to a new report released April 26 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), world military expenditure rose to nearly $2 trillion in 2020, an increase of 2.6 percent, in real terms, from 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a virtual standstill for the last 14 months, apparently has had no impact on military spending.

Ironically, four of the five biggest spenders were permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), namely the US, China, Russia and UK. The fifth biggest spender was India, currently a non-permanent member of the UNSC.

Military spending by China, which is currently in a new Cold War with the US, grew for the 26th consecutive year.

The latest figures of rising arms expenditures by some of the big powers makes a mockery of the UN’s longstanding pleas for cutbacks and diversion of funds from the military into sustainable development.

William D. Hartung, Director, Arms and Security Program at the Washington-based Center for International Policy told IPS: “At a time when a global pandemic, climate change, and racial and economic injustice pose the greatest risks to human lives and livelihoods, the increase in global military expenditures in 2020 marks a dismal failure by policymakers across the world to address the most urgent challenges we face”.

He argued that even a fraction of. the nearly $2 trillion spent on the military last year could have gone a long way towards sustainable investments in public health, environmental protection, and combating inequality.  “World leaders can and must do better,” said Hartung.

The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) points out that over the past century, governments have sought ways to reach a global agreement on reductions in military expenditures. Various proposals were discussed in the League of Nations, and later in the UN. Early proposals in the UN focused on reducing the expenditures of States with large militaries, and on freeing up funds for development aid.

“But proposals for cutting military spending did not materialize,” says UNODA. However, they led to the development of the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures in 1981—later renamed United Nations Report on Military Expenditures (MilEx)—under which countries are encouraged to report on their military expenditures.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Full Professor with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS “the latest military spending data from SIPRI are difficult to reconcile with the reality of the world we live in today”.

In a year in which the global community was dealing with the horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic, SIPRI’s data show that military spending continued unabated. Military spending increased in nine of the 10 countries with the highest military expenditures, she pointed out.

Even though the global economy as measured by global gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 4.4 percent, she said, global military spending increased 2.6 percent over the year. Global military spending is going in exactly the wrong direction.

“Unfortunately, the United States continues to lead the world in military spending, accounting for 39 percent of the global total,” said Dr Goldring, who is Visiting Professor of the Practice in Duke University’s Washington DC program and also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to SIPRI’s data, that’s more than the rest of the top 10 military spenders combined. And It’s more than twice the total of the countries which are most commonly perceived by US policymakers as its main military competitors, Russia and China, she added.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, told IPS it is indeed ironic that four of the five permanent members of the UNSC are the largest military spenders.

“The more ironic problem is the fact that all of these countries spend a small fraction of these amounts on social programs, which explains to a great extent the growing poverty in all of these countries”.  Needless to say, he noted, the key to reducing military budgets is directly connected to the level of tension between the various countries.

“I do not expect any serious discussion about world disarmament unless many of the consuming conflicts are resolved, and in particular the growing, rather than diminishing, tension between the United States, Russia, and China,” Dr Ben-Meir declared.

‘The recent increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement,’ said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

Meanwhile, China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to have totalled $252 billion in 2020. This represents an increase of 1.9 per cent over 2019 and 76 per cent over the decade 2011–20. China’s spending has risen for 26 consecutive years, the longest series of uninterrupted increases by any country in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.

In an open letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last September, the Berlin-based International Peace Bureau called for world disarmament and the reduction of global military spending. “We write to you on behalf of the International Peace Bureau and more than 11.000 signatories to express our support for your call for a global ceasefire. We would also like to emphasize the need for (nuclear) disarmament and the reallocation of money from the military to healthcare, social, and environmental needs – to the fulfilment of the Social Development Goals.”

This pandemic has also made clear that states need to re-prioritize their spending. While many of the problems raised by the pandemic could have been at least partially solved, it was the lack of funding which hindered it, the letter declared.

Last month, the United Nations was hoping to raise soma $3.85bn from more than 100 governments and donors at a virtual pledging conference. The funds were meant to avert widespread famine in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen,

But the total pledges amounted to only $1.7bn – less than half – in what the UN secretary general described as a “disappointing outcome”. “Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence,” António Guterres said in a statement.

In its latest study, SIPRI said even though military spending rose globally, some countries explicitly reallocated part of their planned military spending to pandemic response, such as Chile and South Korea. Several others, including Brazil and Russia, spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 2020.

‘We can say with some certainty that the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020,’ said Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending through a second year of the pandemic.’

Dr. Goldring pointed out that in 2020, approximately 1.8 million people around the world died of covid. SIPRI’s military spending figures suggest that the countries with the highest military expenditures decided that business as usual was the correct direction to follow, despite the covid pandemic.

“This is a time for reevaluating priorities. Countries should be giving priority to the health and welfare of their people, rather than continuing to fund the military-industrial complex. Cutting military spending would free funds for human needs and sustainable development.”

“The UN has suggested diverting funds from military expenditures to fund sustainable development. But in reality, this isn’t a question of diverting funds – it’s devoting them to what they should have been allocated to in the first place.”

“In the early days of his Administration, President Biden has not shown an inclination to reverse the United States’ excessive military spending patterns. He is proceeding with expensive new nuclear weapons and continuing to propose bloated military budgets.

There’s still time to reevaluate this approach, restructure US military spending, and focus on human needs. Cutting the military budget would also free US financial resources to help deal with the urgent global problems of the covid pandemic and the climate crisis.”

“More than a decade ago, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “The world is over armed, and peace is underfunded.” Unfortunately, this statement continues to be true.”

(Thalif Deen is the author of the newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That.” The 220-page book is peppered with scores of anecdotes– from the serious to the hilarious– and is available on Amazon worldwide and at the Vijitha Yapa bookshop in Sri Lanka. The links follow: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/ https://www.vijithayapa.com/)

Kamala Harris Advocates American Jobs Plan At 1st Economic Speech Since Becoming VP

“Help is here and hope is here — and things are looking up. Schools are reopening. Businesses are reopening. Grandparents are seeing their grandchildren in person. We are delivering real, real relief:” Said Kmala Harris

Kamala Harris delivered her first extended economic speech since becoming vice president, making a pitch for the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan and touting the White House’s accomplishments since President Joe Biden was sworn in.

“Help is here and hope is here — and things are looking up. Schools are reopening. Businesses are reopening. Grandparents are seeing their grandchildren in person. We are delivering real, real relief,” Harris told an audience at Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina.

The vice president specifically discussed what the administration’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure package — the President’s top legislative priority — would do for infrastructure jobs, water infrastructure, child and home care businesses broadband and job training. She called the plan “a once in a lifetime, once in a generation investment in America’s infrastructure — in America’s future. It is what the American people deserve.” Harris said the plan “is not just about fixing what has been. It is about building what can be.”

Harris has become increasingly involved in promoting the Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal currently being considered by Congress, known as the American Jobs Plan. She’s taken part in meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus as well as with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to discuss it and last week, USA Today published her op-ed calling on Congress to pass the plan.

According to the White House, after her speech in North Carolina on Monday, Harris “will continue traveling the country to promote the plan in the weeks to come” — serving in an outreach role similar to the one she played in promoting the passage of the American Rescue Plan.

“In the 21st century in America, I believe you should not have to work more than one job to be able to pay your bills and feed your family. One good job should be enough. At a good job, you shouldn’t have to worry about your safety. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you have the ability to get a good life, because you might have to go in debt for a diploma that promises a decent paycheck,” she argued.

“A good job allows people the freedom to build the life you want. To reach as high as you want, to aspire. That’s what a good job does. And good jobs are what the President and I will create with the American Jobs Plan.”

The speech comes on the same day Biden hosts his second bipartisan gathering in as many weeks in the Oval Office.  The White House has launched a massive legislative outreach effort to sway key members of Congress to buy into the proposal, but Republicans appear to have not yet reached consensus on a potential counter-proposal with a lower price tag. And no comprehensive GOP plan has been released so far.

$2.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan To Make US Shine In 21st Century Unveiled

Beyond roads and bridges, President Joe Biden is trying to redefine infrastructure not just as an investment in America the place, but in its workers, families and people.

Beyond roads and bridges, President Joe Biden is trying to redefine infrastructure not just as an investment in America the place, but in its workers, families and people. The first phase of his “Build Back Better” package unveiled in Pittsburgh would unleash $2 trillion in new spending on four main hard infrastructure categories — transportation; public water, health and broadband systems; community care for seniors; and innovation research and development.

Those would be paid for by permanently raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, the people said, which would unwind the lower corporate rate put in place by the Trump administration.

President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers discussed how to pay for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package during a meeting at the White House Monday, April 12th according to attendees, during which Republicans said they remain opposed to raising taxes on corporations and pushed for a narrower package. Mr. Biden showed an openness to breaking his proposal into smaller parts and considering different ways to pay for it, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.

The meeting was the latest in a series the White House has held with lawmakers on Capitol Hill involved in infrastructure funding and policy, though it will be the first since Mr. Biden rolled out his framework. Biden and Democratic leaders have said they hope to secure GOP support for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package the president unveiled late last month.

“We hope to do this in the most bipartisan way possible,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters. “If we have to go to reconciliation, that’s a lever, but I hope it’s not something that we need to do.”

Bills using reconciliation in the Senate can advance with just a simple majority, rather than 60 votes. With an evenly divided Senate, liberal lawmakers’ hope of passing gun control and voting rights were dashed last week when a key Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he would oppose the changes to the filibuster, which creates a 60-vote threshold.

Infrastructure projects can spur economic growth in unforeseen ways and that means they do not have to be paid for directly. Traditional accounting-based viability assessments fall short when you cannot take into account the collateral benefits of your project, simply because they are known unknowns.

It is an open secret that many of these large-scale Chinese projects incur bad debt in an accounting sense, as own-account P&L cannot justify billions spent on them. That said, the economy as a whole ends up stronger, and improved fundamentals make it very logical to ignore these bad debts. For example, the High-Speed Rail network expenses were indirectly paid for by increased efficiency from reduced dependence on freight corridors. Airports, roads and rail lines bring far-flung places within reach, helping factories spread out, reducing poverty in hinterlands, and reducing pollution in coastal cities. New cities bring factories and the other way around, creating a symbiotic cycle of virtue. Chronicling China’s rise, Thomas J. Campanella of Cornell University sums up as follows “We need a bit of China to be stirred into our game. We’re over-privileging the immediately affected residents. What we don’t do is give requisite weight to the larger society”.

During World War II, the US-financed three-quarters of US Government spending in 1941-45 with War Bonds (over USD 5 Trillion today). In practice that is what China does too – except that parties across from each other on a negotiating table represent different line items on the same ledger. Ours brings more accountability and transparency if rightly structured.

Highway and rail proposals must go through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., wields power as the chairwoman of a subcommittee that will shape the Biden bill. “President Biden put forward a framework that would update and improve our infrastructure while creating millions of new jobs,” Titus said. “Now it’s up to us to work out the details over the next few months.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called on committee chairs to reach across party lines for input from Republicans on the infrastructure bill. But Republicans have panned the legislation as giveaway and handout to unions and Democratic special interest groups. GOP leaders also said the plan would be paid for with a rollback on Trump-era tax cuts that benefited most Americans.

Funding Biden’s infrastructure initiative with tax hikes has been controversial. Raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% would generate some $700 billion over 10 years, one of the people said. The administration is also eyeing a new global minimum tax. Biden promised on the campaign trail not to raise individual taxes on those earning less than $400,000 but new details on the individual tax hikes were scant at Tuesday’s briefing.

Tax hikes on the wealthy, most likely changes to the top rates, are expected to pay for the human capital investments coming in two weeks. “It seems like President Biden has an insatiable appetite to spend more money and raise people’s taxes,” said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip, in an interview.

However, Republicans have pushed back on the president’s plan. “And I’m going to fight them every step of the way because I think this is the wrong prescription for America,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. McConnell says the $2-trillion price tag is too high. “We ought to build that which we can afford and not either whack the economy with major tax increases or run up the national debt even more,” McConnell said.

The president is putting the pressure on Congress to pass his $2-trillion infrastructure plan, called the American Jobs Plan. “Congress should debate my plan. Change it or offer alternatives if they think that’s what they need to do. But Congress should act,” he said.

Key Takeaways – The Substance of the Plan

  • The new investment in basic infrastructure will draw bipartisan support, but the focus on “green” energy and related infrastructure will turn off many Republicans. A key question in the Senate will be whether Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) will support a bill that will very likely be disadvantageous to the coal industry, which is important in his state. In order to pass in the Senate, changes likely will be needed to accommodate Senator Manchin.
  • House and Senate members will try to add their own “pet” infrastructure projects to the bill to benefit their districts or states, which could negatively impact the effort’s reputation in the public as the debate evolves.
  • The tax provisions outlined by the President will be expanded as the House and Senate write their own bills. The President’s plan only addresses corporate tax rates and provisions, but the House and Senate will also add tax increases and provisions relating to individuals as well. We have highlighted these potential provisions over the past several months. They include capital gains tax increases, changes to the estate tax, and a return to the 39.6% tax bracket for the top earners, among others. These proposals, which will be subject to significant debate, are likely to be added to a final plan from Congress in the months ahead. We also expect the corporate tax provisions to be expanded as well. Congress doesn’t often get a chance to reform the tax code, and Democratic lawmakers in particular will press hard to get preferred tax policy provisions included in the final bill.
  • Notably, the Biden proposal doesn’t contain an increase in the federal gasoline tax. It also doesn’t propose any new “user fees,” such as a tax on miles driven that has been suggested by some lawmakers. It also doesn’t mention any other ideas that have been floated to finance infrastructure in the past, such as the creation of an infrastructure bank, increased privatization of certain infrastructure projects or the reinstatement of “Build America Bonds,” among others.
  • While support for the plan will primarily come from Democrats and opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill, one interesting group to watch will be the business community. They will embrace the general infrastructure improvements but are irked that they have been asked to pay for them through higher taxes. A divided business community would aid Democrats in passing this bill.

Subscribe to Newsletter









Download TheUNN App today!

Click or Scan the QR Code

This will close in 0 seconds

-+=