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has resisted proposals to overhaul the US internet regulatory framework, which is widely considered to be woefully out of date.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.


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:


  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.


  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?

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.

IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath Says, IMF Favors Global Minimum Corporate Tax

The International Monetary Fund has long favored adoption of a global minimum tax on corporate profits, the Fund’s chief economist, Gita Gopinath, told reporters, calling tax avoidance a troubling issue for the global economy.

Gopinath said current disparities in national corporate tax rates had triggered “a large amount” of tax shifting and tax avoidance, reducing the tax base on which governments could collect revenues to fund needed economic and social spending. “It is a big concern,” Gopinath told reporters during an online briefing. “We are very much in favor of a global minimum corporate tax.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday a global deal on cross-border taxation was within reach as he welcomed a pledge by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to work on a global corporate minimum rate.

Gopinath said the IMF had not taken a position on the ideal level for such a tax rate, adding that governments would need to replenish their coffers after massive spending to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its economic impact.

“The hope is that they will move forward better to have more inclusive, sustainable, green economies, and that would require measures both on the revenue side and on the expenditure side,” she said, adding that each country would have to carefully tailor its own actions on the tax front.

Gopinath said the IMF was still studying the Biden administration’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%, but noted that the former Trump administration’s decision to lower that tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2017 had had less impact on investment than initially expected.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen advocated for a global minimum corporate tax in her first major public address. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan swiftly underscored the message, tweeting that “the U.S. is committed to end the race to the bottom on corporate tax rates and prevent corporations from shifting jobs overseas” as a core piece of its national security strategy.

As policymakers around the world consider a global minimum corporate tax, it is important to understand the context behind the concept and how this tax might actually work.

International corporate taxation has long presented a challenge for tax authorities around the world. The emergence of globalization and intangible capital in recent decades has made taxing multinational corporations (MNCs) increasingly difficult, and greater international cooperation is needed to make such taxation more effective.

A global minimum tax on profitable MNCs would ensure that a baseline level of revenue is collected from them. Although this tax would not solve all problems related to corporate tax avoidance and evasion, and its design and implementation need careful consideration, it would be an important and helpful step.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said there was “no evidence” that raising the corporate tax rate by seven percentage points would drive business abroad. White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that the 28% rate would be lower than it was at any time since World War Two.

John Kerry Pats India, Pushes For More Efforts To Cleaner Energy

India did not cause the climate crisis but it cannot be solved without that nation’s help, United States Climate Envoy John Kerry, who is visiting India this week for climate talks, is reported to be telling New Delhi. As one of the world’s largest economies and a global leader in science and innovation, India is a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis, Kerry understands the role India needs to play in combating Climate and Global Warning.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said he spoke with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently about how the United States could help mobilize finance to reduce risks in producing alternative energy in the fight against global warming.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry said he spoke with Modi about bringing “concessionary finance” to the table to reduce India’s risks in dealing with first losses on the transition to clean energy. Concessionary finance typically involves loans on terms lower than market rates.

Then the United States could “bring more money to the table for a normal commercial investment that could quickly start producing alternative fuel,” said Kerry, speaking from New Delhi to an International Monetary Fund seminar. Kerry did not provide more specifics. Kerry met with Modi ahead of President Joe Biden’s hosting of 40 world leaders in a climate summit in Washington on April 22.

India is the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States, albeit with far lower emissions per capita than those countries. And it is under pressure from the United States and Britain to commit to a target of decarbonizing its economy by 2050.

Asked about the objective of the visit to India, a State Department spokesperson said, “We see India as an important partner on future clean energy research, development, and deployment, not least because of their successful domestic agenda in this area. A key focus for our administration is supporting and encouraging India’s decarburization efforts through clean, zero, and low-carbon investment, and supporting India in mitigating its fossil energy use.”

Indian government sources said the South Asian country was unlikely to bind itself to the 2050 goal as its energy demand was projected to grow more than that of any other country over the next two decades.

Kerry said China believes it may be able to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by 2025. But he said there was a risk that China’s emissions could plateau after that and not come down enough. China needs to continue to develop, Kerry said. “We’re not begrudging that, but what we want to do is work with China, and other countries, to make sure … it doesn’t buy into the mistakes that we made.”

On March 26, President Joe Biden announced that he had invited 40 world leaders to the Leaders Summit on Climate. During the summit, to be held virtually on April 22 and 23, the United States will announce an ambitious 2030 emissions target as its new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement.

In recent years, scientists have underscored the need to limit planetary warming to 1.5° Celsius in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Stanford University Earth System Science Professor Rob Jackson, who is also senior fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said, India contributes 7 percent of global fossil carbon emissions, about two and a half billion tons per year. In contrast, the United States is responsible for about 15 percent of global fossil carbon dioxide emissions, about five billion tons a year. “Our per capita fossil carbon emissions are eight times higher than India’s. India’s emissions are still rising, including those from coal power. That’s one of many likely reasons John Kerry is visiting.”

Boeing Forecasts Demand For Over 2,200 New Aircraft In India By 2041

Aerospace major Boeing expects demand for more than 2,200 new jets valued at nearly $320 billion over the next 20 years in India. In its annual Commercial Market Outlook (CMO), Boeing anticipates resilient long-term demand for commercial airplanes and services.

The CMO cited that Covid-19 pandemic has sharply reduced Indian air travel last year, however, the country’s domestic passenger traffic is recovering more rapidly than in most other countries and regions, recently reaching 76 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Besides, India’s passenger traffic has been predicted to outpace global growth, doubling from the pre-pandemic levels by 2030. At present, India’s passenger market is the world’s third largest. Furthermore, India’s economy is predicted to grow at 5 per cent annually through the forecast period, the highest of any emerging market.

“Many more Indians will travel by airplane for leisure and business as incomes rise tied to industrialization and an economic growth rate in South Asia that leads all emerging markets,” said David Schulte, managing director of Regional Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“With greater demand for domestic, regional and long-haul travel, we anticipate India’s commercial fleet will grow four-fold by 2039.” As per the CMO, India’s air carriers have opportunities for growth in international markets.

Schulte noted that several airlines have started or plan to start non-stop routes between India and North America to serve a passenger preference for direct service flights.

Boeing India President Salil Gupte said: “India’s burgeoning manufacturing and services business means the region is uniquely positioned to become a major aerospace hub.”

“We remain committed to partnering across India to develop the nation’s aerospace ecosystem, as continued investment in the civil aviation infrastructure and talent will enable sustained growth.” (IANS)

F-1 Students Seeking Optional Practical Training Can Now File Form I-765

WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced that F-1 students seeking optional practical training (OPT) can now file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, online if they are filing under one of these categories:

  • (c)(3)(A) – Pre-Completion OPT;
  • (c)(3)(B) – Post-Completion OPT; and
  • (c)(3)(C) – 24-Month Extension of OPT for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). Eligible F-1 students who receive STEM degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT.

“USCIS remains committed to maximizing our online filing capabilities,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. “The I-765 online filing option allows eligible students to file forms online in a more user-friendly fashion and increases efficiencies for adjudicators.”

The option to file Form I-765 online is only available to F-1 students filing Form I-765 for OPT. If an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request employment authorization on or after April 15, but is eligible for a different employment authorization category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee. As USCIS continues to transition to paperless operations, the agency will work to expand online filing for Form I-765 to additional categories.

Online filing allows applicants to submit forms electronically, check the status of their case anytime from anywhere, and receive notices from USCIS online instead of waiting for them in the mail. USCIS is using innovation and technology to meet the needs of applicants, petitioners and employees. Regardless of the paper or electronic format of an application or petition, USCIS is committed to ensuring a secure and efficient process for all.

Individuals can file 11 USCIS forms online, which can all be found on the Forms Available to File Online page. To file these forms online, individuals must first create a USCIS online account at https://myaccount.uscis.gov/. This free account allows them to:

  • Submit their forms;
  • Pay their fees;
  • Track the status of their case;
  • Communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox; and
  • Respond to Requests for Evidence.

USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of these forms by mail.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn

IAICC South Carolina Chapter Launched To Foster Economic Development Of US, India, Rest Of The World

The Governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster declared March 24 as the “IAICC-South Carolina Chapter Day,” in a proclamation, at the inauguration of the IAICC South Carolina Chapter on March 24 at the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, South Carolina.

Governor McMaster presented the proclamation to KV Kumar, President & CEO of IAICC at the inauguration and appreciated the work of IAICC. While speaking at the event, Governor McMaster welcomed IAICC to South Carolina and said his administration will work with IAICC and support its initiatives in the State.

He also said that South Carolina and India enjoy great relations, and the State has been playing a significant role in promoting India-US trade relations for so many years now. He added that relations between these two countries have continued to flourish even during the pandemic, and announced that South Carolina was the first State in the SE Region to establish an Office of the Trade Representative in New Delhi.

Welcoming the gathering, KV Kumar appreciated Governor McMaster’s efforts in the State and thanked him and the First Lady Peggy McMaster for graciously hosting the IAICC inauguration and the reception at the Governor’s Mansion. He also thanked the Indian Ambassador to the US, Mr. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, and the Consul General of India in Atlanta, Dr. Swati Kulkarni for their continued support to IAICC. Kumar said he missed the Ambassador at the event, and congratulated him for bringing several key initiatives to strengthen India-US relations. During her address,

Dr. Kulkarni praised Governor McMaster and Mr. Kumar for their work in India-US Relations. She commended IAICC’s role in enhancing the trade partnership between US and India, and said IAICC will play as a catalyst in bringing more business opportunities to South Carolina. She also presented a communique on the present status of India to Governor McMaster.

At the inauguration, Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Robert Hitt III, and IAICC officials signed an MoU. One of the objectives in the MoU stated that the signatories will establish and promote a new era of South Carolina – India Relations.

IAICC SE Regional Chairman, Dr. Narasimhulu Neelagaru also thanked Governor McMaster for his support and said he looked forward to working him and the State of South Carolina. At the event, Mr. Kumar introduced Ms. Bhavna Vasudeva, President of IAICC-SC Chapter.

Ms. Vasudeva delivered the vote and thanks and thanked Governor McMaster for hosting the event and other guests for their valued presence. IAICC Executive Committee members and officials Mr. Appen Menon, Mr. Achyut Allady, Dr. Anu Bhat, Mr. Kinesh Doshi, and Dr. Subrahmanya Bhat were also present and participated in the event.

Members of the Governor’s Cabinet, Ms. Jeanette Prenger, Chair of The Latino Coalition, Ms. Cici Rojas, President of The Latino Coalition, and other local business leaders also attended the event.

India Now Holds World Record For Fastest Road Construction

Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Friday that India holds the world record for fastest road construction. “We made three world records in March. India now holds world record for fastest road construction. We made it to Guinness World Records by building a 2.5 km 4-lane concrete road within 24 hours. We also built 1-lane 25-km bitumen Solapur-Bijapur road within 24 hours,” the minister said, reported ANI.

In February, Patel Infrastructure Limited, an contractor of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) created a world record by laying the highest quantity of concrete on a four-lane highway in 24 hours. The record was set for laying of Pavement Quality Concrete (PQC) for a four-lane highway of 2,580 meters length within 24 hours. Starting at 8 am on 1 February, 2021, they finished the job, totalling 2,580 meters X 4 lanes i.e. approximately 10.32 lane kilometres by 8 am next morning. With a width of 18.75 meters, as much an area as 48,711 square meters of concrete was laid for the expressway in 24 hours. The highest quantity of concrete laid in 24 hours – 14,613 cubic meter was achieved. It was part of the greenfield Delhi-Vadodara-Mumbai 8-lane Expressway project.

Another NHAI contractor completed single lane of the four-lane stretch of 25.54 km being developed between Solapur-Vijapur (NH 52) in 18 hours. Hyderabad-based construction company IJM India carried out the construction work, according to media reports. “About 500 contractual workers worked hard for the project,” Gadkari said earlier.

The ministry of road transport and highways has constructed 13,394 km of highways in fiscal year 2020-21. Gadkari said that the pace of highways construction in the country has touched a record 37 km per day in financial year 2020-21.

“Tremendous progress has been achieved in building national highways across the country… These achievements are unprecedented and have no parallel in any other country in the world,” the minister mentioned. The achievement was remarkable as it was achieved despite constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he further added.

“Cumulative cost of ongoing project works has increased by 54 per cent at the end of the financial year 2020-21, compared to the financial year 2019-20 (as on March 31),” the minister said.

Strengthening US Dollar Leads To Rupee Losing In Value

A strengthening US dollar as well as rising bond yields depreciated the Indian rupee to a month’s low level. The rupee closed at 73.38 per dollar, down from 72.51 on Friday. The broad strength in the dollar has hit almost all emerging market currencies, while the India rupee looks to be hit the most, as confluence of internal factors exaggerated the extreme move in the Indian currency, said Madhavi Arora, Lead Economist, Emkay Global.

She added that in all likelihood, the rupee will start following suit of its emerging market peers by early April. “We anyway believe policymakers are getting more tolerant about the idea of a structurally weaker rupee in the medium term and CY21 will see rupee being in the middle of the EMFX pack and not an outlier on either side on spot returns,” she said. (IANS)

Investments made by non-resident Indians (NRIs) on a non-repatriation basis will not be considered for calculation of indirect foreign investment. The Department for Promotion of Internal Policy and Trade (DPIIT) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has reviewed the policy on downstream investments made by non-resident Indians (NRIs).

This means an addition to the Consolidated FDI Policy Circular 2020 effective from October 15, 2020 which is amended from time to time. It has been clarified that investments made by NRIs on non-repatriation basis under Schedule IV of the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt instruments) Rules 2019 are deemed to be domestic investments at par with investments by residents.

“Accordingly, an investment made by an Indian entity which is owned and controlled by NRIs on a non-repatriation basis shall not be considered for calculation of indirect foreign investment,” DPIIT said in a circular.

Meanwhile, a mega US infrastructure creation program along with likely retention of key lending rates and an accommodative stance by the Reserve Bank are expected to boost the rupee’s prospects during the upcoming week.

Accordingly, US President Joe Biden recently announced a ‘$2 trillion plus job plan’, including $621 billion to rebuild infrastructure. If passed by the US Congress, the plan will add pressure on the dollar against all the EM currencies including the rupee.

“Another US stimulus may keep equities buoyant and the rupee strong,” Sajal Gupta, Head, Forex and Rates at Edelweiss Securities told IANS. “Expect the rupee to trade between 72.90 to 73.60 during next week.”

“The last trade week was very volatile for the forex market, especially on speculating trading ahead of Biden’s additional stimulus,” said Rahul Gupta, Head Of Research- Currency, Emkay Global Financial Services.

“Biden announced his long-awaited $2 trillion-plus job plan, including $621 billion to rebuild infrastructure. This new package would certainly be a big positive for the US economy if passed by Congress.”

Furthermore, Gupta cited that some profit-booking has led to a fall in dollar gains. “For next week, we expect USDINR spot to trade in between 72.50-73.50.” Besides, the Reserve Bank’s MPC is expected to retain key lending rates and an accommodative stance during the first monetary policy review of 2021-22.

“Next week, market participants will be keeping an eye on the RBI policy statement; expectation is that the central bank could keep rates unchanged and wait for some more time before taking any action to spur growth,” said Gaurang Somaiya, Forex & Bullion Analyst, Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

“The RBI is likely to continue with the accommodative monetary policy stance and wait for an opportune time to announce monetary action with a view to ensure the best possible outcome in terms of pushing growth without sacrificing the main objective of containing inflation.”

On the other hand, rising Covid cases will add pressure on the rupee. Lately, a new wave of Covid-19 infections has hit several states. This comes at a time when India is trying to ramp up the vaccination drive.

“RBI’s interventions in currency markets and spread of virus and pace of inoculations and global risk appetite will determine fate of the currency this week,” said Devarsh Vakil- Deputy Head of Retail Research at HDFC Securities.

“We expect it to gradually depreciate compared to greenback over the next few weeks.” The RBI is known to enter the markets via intermediaries to either sell or buy US dollars to keep the rupee in a stable orbit. (IANS)

US Retaliates Against India’s Equalization Levy

The United States Trade Representative has announced initiation of investigation against the taxation on digital services adopted or under consideration by countries including the equalization levy applied by India. The other counties under investigation included Italy, Turkey, UK, Spain and Austria.

A statement from the office of the USTR said that in January it was found that digital service taxes (DST) adopted by Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom were subject to action under Section 301 because they discriminated against US digital companies, were inconsistent with the principles of international taxation, and burdened US companies.

USTR is proceeding with the public notice and comment process on possible trade actions to preserve procedural options before the conclusion of the statutory one-year time period for completing the investigations.

“The United States is committed to working with its trading partners to resolve its concerns with digital services taxes, and to addressing broader issues of international taxation,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai.

“The United States remains committed to reaching an international consensus through the OECD process on international tax issues. However, until such a consensus is reached, we will maintain our options under the Section 301 process, including, if necessary, the imposition of tariffs.”

Among the proposed actions, the Joe Biden administration has proposed to impose retaliatory tariffs up to 25 per cent on around 40 Indian products including shrimps, basmati rice, gold and silver items.

The Government of India will examine the proposed action with the stakeholders concerned and would take suitable measures keeping its trade and commercial interest of the country and overall interest of its people, according to official sources.

With regard to India, the investigation was targeted on the 2 per cent equalisation levy (EL)levied by India on e-commerce supply of services. The investigation included whether the EL discriminated against US companies, was applied retrospectively, and diverged from U.S or international tax norms due to its applicability on entities not resident in India.

The U.S. requested for bilateral consultations in this matter, and India submitted its comments to the USTR on 15 July 2020, participated in the bilateral consultation held on 5 Nov 2020.

India made a strong case that the levy is not discriminatory and only seeks to ensure a level-playing field with respect to e-commerce activities undertaken by entities with permanent establishment in India.

It also clarified that the equalisation levy was applied only prospectively, and has no extra-territorial application, since it is based on sales occurring in the territory of India through digital means.

India based e-commerce operators are already subject to taxes in India for revenue generated from Indian market. However, in the absence of the levy, non-resident e-commerce operators, not having any permanent establishment in India but with significant economic presence, are not required to pay taxes in respect of the consideration received in the e-commerce supply or services made in the Indian market. (IANS)

Biden Unveils $2 Trillion Modern Sustainable Infrastructure Plans

President Biden has unveiled a sprawling, ambitious infrastructure proposal that, if enacted, would overhaul how Americans get from Point A to Point B, how their electricity is generated, the speed of their Internet connections, the quality of their water and the physical makeup of their children’s schools. Under the Plan, Biden aims to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing problems – from climate change to decaying water systems to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The measure, called the American Jobs Plan, includes big infrastructure fixes that both major parties — as well as a majority of Americans — consistently say they want to see, including upgrades to bridges, broadband and buildings.

Biden’s plan would devote more than $600 billion to rebuilding the United States’ infrastructure, such as its ports, railways, bridges and highways; about $300 billion to support domestic manufacturing; and more than $200 billion in housing infrastructure. Other major measures include at least $100 billion for a variety of priorities, including creating national broadband system, modernizing the electric power grid, upgrading school and educational facilities, investing in research and development projects, and ensuring America’s drinking water is safe.

Biden’s plan includes measures unrelated to either infrastructure or the climate, such as an approximately $400 billion investment in home-based care for the elderly and disabled that was a top demand of some union groups. Additionally, the plan calls for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, a bill aimed at significantly strengthening workers’ rights to organize.

Biden’s plan lays out a large investment in clean-energy and environmental priorities. The programs include $100 billion to bolster the country’s electricity grid and phase out fossil fuels, in part by extending a production tax credit for 10 years that supports renewable energy.

The mega plan has met a chorus of opposition, with Republicans panning it as a partisan wish list, some liberals challenging it as not sufficient to combat climate change, and business groups rejecting its proposed tax hikes.

In a speech Tuesday afternoon at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Pittsburgh Training Center, Biden pitched his plan as a transformative effort to change the nation’s economy. He called it the most significant federal jobs investment since the World War II era, saying it would put hundreds of thousands of electricians and laborers to work laying miles of electrical grid and capping hundreds of oil wells. He said the plan’s research funding would make the United States the global leader in emerging sectors such as battery technology, biotechnology and clean energy.

“This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race,” in the 1950s and 1960s, Biden said. “We have to move now. I’m convinced that if we act now in 50 years people will look back and say, ‘This was the moment America won the future.’ ”

The administration’s promises are vast and may prove difficult to enact, even if the effort can get through Democrats’ extremely narrow majority in Congress. The immediate rejection of the plan by leading Republicans suggested that the path toward a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure would be very difficult to achieve, leaving the White House’s next move unclear.

The White House said the plan would enable drivers across the country to find electric charging stations for their vehicles on the road. Lead pipes throughout the country would be replaced. All Americans would have access to high-speed Internet connections by the end of the decade.

Biden released the spending plan with a slew of tax hikes on businesses, which could be the most contentious part of his proposal. The White House said the proposal would pay for itself over 15 years because many of the tax increases would remain even as the spending proposals only last for eight years. Biden said on Wednesday that the plan would reduce the federal debt “over the long haul.” Legislation in Washington is typically evaluated on a 10-year budget window, and it is unclear precisely what the plan would cost over a decade.

On the tax side, Biden’s plan includes raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%; increasing the global minimum tax paid from about 13% to 21%, ending federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies, and increasing tax enforcement against corporations. The White House is also proposing as much as $400 billion in clean energy credits for firms, though the cost of the tax credit provisions is not detailed in what the administration has released.

The tax measures help Biden address concerns that his spending package would add to an already large federal deficit, but they provoked a torrent of opposition from GOP lawmakers and business groups. Congressional Republicans have also panned the tax increases as damaging to U.S. investment and competitiveness, and they have pledged to oppose them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced the measure. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chair of the Senate Republican Conference, said it amounted to an “out-of-control socialist spending spree” that reflected “the left’s radical agenda.”

“There is virtually no path to getting Republican votes. It’s too big, too expensive, and chock full of tax increases that are nonstarters among Republicans,” said Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who works at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank.

Among Democrats, the plan has been met by objections from lawmakers in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who say it is insufficient to meet the scale of the threat posed by climate change. Centrist Democrats are balking at another large spending package. Three House Democrats have vowed to oppose the package because it would not reverse a cap on state and local tax deductions from Trump’s tax law.

And a number of priorities critical to congressional Democrats, including an extension on the expanded child credit, a major expansion in health insurance coverage, subsidies for child care and free access to community colleges, are being left to a second White House package to be unveiled in coming weeks.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the proposed tax hikes in a statement on Wednesday, arguing that while infrastructure spending is necessary, “the users who benefit from the investment” should pay for it.

Biden, who has pledged to make the power sector carbon-free by 2035, will also ask Congress to adopt an “Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard” that would set targets to cut how much coal- and gas-fired electricity power companies use.

Investing in electric vehicles ranks among Biden’s top climate-spending priorities, with $174 billion designated for that market alone. White House officials predicted that the federal incentives, paired with spending by state and local governments and private companies, would establish a national network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030, while spurring a domestic supply chain that will support union jobs and American-built cars and trucks. The plan will also replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles while switching about 20% of school buses to electric engines.

The president will also ask Congress to provide $45 billion to replace lead pipes across the country, while reducing lead exposure in 400,000 schools and child-care facilities. Some $56 billion would go to grants and low-interest loans, for state, local and tribal governments to upgrade aging water systems. Another $10 billion would be spent on addressing polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals that have contaminated drinking-water supplies across the country.

The proposal includes more than $200 billion for housing programs, including $40 billion in public housing, although housing advocates say they worry that may be insufficient to meet the nation’s decaying housing stock.

On its own terms, the proposal would not resolve all of the nation’s infrastructure woes, which have been growing for decades. The plan, for example, cites a trillion-dollar backlog of road, bridge, rail and transit repairs, but it proposes less than that.

The Biden plan, if it passes Congress, would spur far-reaching changes that could begin shifting the trajectory of the nation’s transportation system. It calls for a doubling of federal funding for public transit. Biden’s plan would also modernize 20,000 miles of streets and highways out of the total of 173,000 miles Biden says are in poor condition.

Democrats have a slim House majority and control the Senate only because of Vice President Harris’ tiebreaking vote. With Republicans already voicing concerns about the proposal’s cost and corporate tax hikes, Democrats may once again have to force major legislation through complicated Senate procedures that could drastically narrow its scope. The party would also have to stick together on a historically expensive effort that has some moderates balking, while some high-profile progressives call for even higher spending levels.

What Biden is introducing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday is the first part of a larger plan to overhaul the economy. Additional proposals for spending on education, child care and other social programs the administration calls “human infrastructure” are expected in the coming weeks.

India’s GDP Growth Will Be 10% In 2022, World Bank Says

The World Bank has scaled up its projections for India’s economic growth by a massive 4.7 percentage points to 10.1 per cent for 2021-22 due to strong rebound in private consumption and investment growth. The Bank had pegged the GDP growth at 5.4 per cent for the country in its January report.

“India, which comprises almost 80 percent of the region’s (south Asia) GDP, had a substantial revision to growth of 4.7 percentage points since January 2021, due to a strong rebound in private consumption and investment growth in the second and third quarters (July-December, 2020) of FY21,” the Bank said in a report, titled South Asia Economic Focus Spring 2021-South Asia Vaccinates.

Considering the uncertainty caused by Covid cases in 2021-22, the Bank also gave a range of economic growth for India, at 7.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent, for FY22. “Given the significant uncertainty pertaining to both epidemiological and policy developments, real GDP growth for FY’22 can range from 7.5 to 12.5 percent, depending on how the ongoing vaccination campaign proceeds, whether new restrictions to mobility are required, and how quickly the world economy

Private consumption and public investment will see the Indian economy likely growing by 10.1% in 2021-22 (FY22), the World Bank said, although, in a sign of all-around uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it said India’s economic growth in FY22 would be in the broad range from 7.5% to 12.5%.

The 10.1% is 4.7 percentage points higher than the World Bank’s previous estimate for India’s growth in 2021, and reflects the pace of the country’s recovery. However the Bank also expects the Indian economy to contract by 8.5% in FY21, higher than the government’s own estimate of 8%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected India’s economy will grow by 11.5% over 2021 and 6.8% over 2022, painting a rosier picture.

“Given the significant uncertainty pertaining to both epidemiological and policy developments, real GDP (gross domestic product) growth for FY21/22 can range from 7.5 to 12.5%, depending on how the ongoing vaccination campaign proceeds, whether new restrictions to mobility are required, and how quickly the world economy recovers,” the World Bank said in a report titled “South Asia Vaccinates”.

Going forward, the report said, “the main risks to the outlook include the materialisation of financial sector risks, that could compromise a recovery in private investment, and new waves of Covid-19 infections.” It saw growth in the country at 6-7% in the medium term.

The Indian economy was already slowing ahead of the pandemic, but the disease and mitigation measures such as lockdowns deepened the crisis several times over, contracting output and shrinking spending and investments.

“In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, the authorities implemented a nationwide lockdown, which brought economic activity to a near standstill between April and June 2020 (Q1FY21),” the report said. Aviation and tourism, hospitality, trade, and construction, were the worst hit as well and industrial activity, overall, was also deeply disrupted. Agriculture, however, was mostly unaffected, it noted.

Acknowledging it is “not normal” to cite growth forecast in a range of numbers, World Bank’s Chief Economist for South Asia, Hans Timmer, told reporters: “We are in an unprecedented circumstance. Not just the hits (were) unprecedented, but also the character of the crisis was as we had never seen before.”

He added that certain sectors of the economy hat were hit were normally much more resilient, especially the services sector, domestic services. “It’s the informal sector. And as a result, we can’t rely really on the past on how this recovery will shape up.” The report forecast growth for the South Asia region at 7.2% in 2021 and 4.4% in 2022.

Timmer said the second wave of infections in India “does not mean we go back to the situation a year ago.” “The next few months will be marked by the speed of the vaccine roll-out and the optimism it may bring to consumer spending and investments,” he added. The report estimated “general government deficit to remain above 10%” till the end of FY22, numbers that are in sync with India’s estimate of fiscal deficit.

Global Currency Reserves of US Dollar Sinks To Lowest Since 1995

The US Dollar’s share of global currency reserves dropped in the fourth quarter to around 59%, the lowest in 25 years, according to International Monetary Fund data. The slide came in a quarter when a gauge of the greenback fell the most since 2010, and amid questions about how long the dollar can maintain its status as the pre-eminent reserve currency. The Chinese renminbi is transforming into a force to be reckoned with in currency markets, with more yuan changing hands than ever before in London, the world’s leading foreign-exchange center.

“This is a slow burn theme, but we are of the view that we’re eventually headed into a ‘multiple reserve currency’ framework over time,” Bipan Rai, a strategist at CIBC, said via email. In the fourth quarter, the euro’s share of official foreign-exchange reserves climbed to 21.2% from 20.5%, while the yuan’s rose to almost 2.3% from 2.1%. The renminbi accounted for 1.94% in the final three months of 2019.

For Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global, the drop in the dollar’s share of global reserves is temporary and was driven by its slide against most currencies in the fourth quarter. He’s focusing on data that shows dollar holdings among central banks climbed to $7 trillion, a record, noting that the percentage changes are “distorted” by short-term valuation changes.

“The 59% is a statistical noise generated by a combination of valuation and material changes” in demand for the euro in the fourth quarter, he said in an email. “The dollar’s recovery in Q1 21 will reverse the valuation adjustment and will see the dollar share of reserves increase.”
With its rebound this year, the dollar is heading for its best quarterly performance in a year, up by 2.8%. The greenback is still the most dominant currency used, with data from the Bank for International Settlements showing it’s on one side of 88% of all trades.

IMF, World Bank Must Urgently Help Finance Developing Countries

(IPS) – COVID-19 has set back the uneven progress of recent decades, directly causing more than two million deaths. The slowdown, due to the pandemic and policy responses, has pushed hundreds of millions more into poverty, hunger and worse, also deepening many inequalities.

The outlook for developing countries is grim, with output losses of 5.7% in 2020. Compared to pre-pandemic trends, the expected 8.1% loss by end-2021 will be much worse than advanced countries dropping 4.7%.

COVID-19 has further set back progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As progress was largely ‘not on track’ even before the pandemic, developing countries will need much support to mitigate the new setbacks, let alone get back on track.The extremely poor, defined by the World Bank as those with incomes under US$1.90/day, increased by 119–124 million in 2020, and are expected to rise by another 143-163 million in 2021.Fiscal response constrainedGlobal fiscal efforts of close to US$14tn, plus low interest rates, liquidity injections and asset purchases by central banks, have helped. Nonetheless, the world economy will lose over US$22 trillion during 2020–2025 due to the pandemic.

Government responses have been much influenced by access to finance. Developed countries have accounted for four-fifths of total pandemic fiscal responses costing US$14tn. Rich countries have deployed the equivalent of a fifth of national income for fiscal efforts.
Meanwhile, emerging market economies spent only 5%, and low-income countries (LICs) a paltry 1.3% by mid-2020. In 2020, increased spending, despite reduced revenue, raised fiscal deficits of emerging market and middle-income countries (MICs) to 10.3%, and of LICs to 5.7%.

Government revenue has fallen due to lower output, commodity prices and longstanding Bank advice to cut taxes. Worse, they already face heavy debt burdens and onerous borrowing costs. Meanwhile, private finance dropped US$700bn in 2020.
Developing countries lost portfolio outflows of US$103bn in the first five months. Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to emerging and developing countries also fell 30–45% in 2020. Meanwhile, bilateral donors cut aid commitments by 36% between 2019 and 2020.
Meanwhile, the liquidity support, debt relief and finance available are woefully inadequate. These constrain LICs’ fiscal efforts, with many even cutting spending, worsening medium-term recovery prospects!Debt burdens

In 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assessed half the LICs as being at high risk of, or already in debt distress – more than double the 2013 share. Debt in LICs rose to 65% of GDP in 2019 from 47% in 2010.Thus, LICs began the pandemic with more debt relative to government revenue, larger deficits and higher borrowing costs than high-income countries. And now, greater fiscal deficits of US$2–3tn projected for 2021 imply more debt.

Debt composition has become riskier with more commercial borrowing, particularly with foreign currency bond issues far outpacing other financing sources, especially official development assistance (ODA) and multilateral lending.More than half of LIC government debt is non-concessional, worsening its implications. External debt maturity periods have also decreased. Also, interest payments cost more than 12% of government revenue in 2018, compared to under 7% in 2010.

Riskier financial flow developing economies have increasingly had to borrow on commercial terms in transnational financial markets as international public finance flows and access to concessional resources have declined.Low interest rates, due to unconventional monetary policies in developed countries, encouraged borrowing by developing countries, especially by upper MICs. But despite generally low interest rates internationally, LIC external debt rates have been rising.

Overall ODA flows – net of repayments of principal – from OECD countries fell in 2017 and 2018. Such flows have long fallen short of the financing needs of Agenda 2030 for the SDGs. Instead of giving 0.7% of their national income as ODA to developing countries, as long promised, actual ODA disbursed has yet to even reach half this level.Although total financial resource flows (ODA, FDI, remittances) to least developed countries (LDCs) increased slightly, ODA remained well short of their needs, falling from 9.4% of LDCs’ GNI in 2003 to 4.3% in 2018. Meanwhile, FDI to LDCs dropped from 4.1% of their GNI in 2003 to 2.3% in 2018.

There has also been a shift away from ‘traditional’ creditors, including multilateral financial institutions and rich country Paris Club members. Some donor governments increasingly use aid to promote private business interests. ‘Blended finance’ was supposed to turn billions of aid dollars into trillions in development finance.

But the private finance actually mobilised has been modest, about US$20bn a year – well below the urgent spending needs of LICs and MICs, and less than a quarter of ODA in 2017. Such changes have further reduced recipient government policy discretion.Inadequate support
The 2020 IMF cancellation of US$213.5m in debt service payments due from 25 eligible LICs was welcome. But the G20 debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) was grossly inadequate, merely kicking the can down the road. It did not cancel any debt, with interest continuing to accrue during the all-too-brief suspension period.

The G20 initiative hardly addressed urgent needs, while private creditors refused to cooperate. Only meant for LICs, it did not address problems facing MICs. Many MICs also face huge debt, with upper MICs alone having US$2.0–2.3tn in 2020–2021.World Bank President David Malpass has expressed concerns that any change to normal debt servicing would negatively impact the Bank’s standing in financial markets, where it issues bonds to finance loans to MICs.

The Bank Group has made available US$160bn for the period April 2020 to June 2021, but moved too slowly with its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). By the time it paid out US$196m, the amount was deemed too small and contagion had spread.Special Drawing RightsIssuing US$650bn worth of new special drawing rights (SDRs) will augment the IMF’s US$1tn lending capacity, already inadequate before the pandemic. But US$650bn in SDRs is only half the new SDR1tn (US$1.37tn) The Financial Times considers necessary given the scale of the problem.

To help, rich countries could transfer unused SDRs to IMF special funds for LICs, such as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT) and the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), or for development finance.Similar arrangements can be made for the Bank. A World Bank version of the IMF’s CCRT could ensure uninterrupted debt servicing while providing relief to countries in need. Investors in Bank bonds would appreciate the distinction.

Hence, issuing SDRs and making other institutional reforms at the Spring meetings in April could enable much more Fund and Bank financial intermediation. These can greatly help finance urgently needed pandemic relief, recovery and reforms in developing countries.

Ship Stuck In Egypt’s Suez Canal Rescued, Reopening Waterway Trade

The colossal cargo ship that became stuck on the banks of Egypt’s Suez Canal last week, blocking traffic through the crucial waterway, was finally freed from the shoreline by engineers on Monday afternoon.

The so-called Ever Given, a 224,000-ton, 1,300-foot-long container ship registered in Panama, was “successfully refloated” and its course straightened at around 3 p.m. local time, after engineers spent days trying to pull the fully laden vessel with tugboats, according to statements from Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority and stakeholders.

Some 30,000 cubic-meters of sand was dredged to help dislodge the Ever Given, along with the deployment of 11 harbor tugs and two seagoing tugs. The Suez Canal was no longer jammed as the massive vessel was towed to a location outside the channel for further inspection, according to Boskalis Westminster, the parent company of the Dutch salvage firm hired to extract the ship.

“I’m extremely proud of the outstanding job done by the team on site as well as the many SMIT Salvage and Boskalis colleagues back home to complete this challenging operation under the watchful eye of the world,” Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis Westminster, said in a statement Monday. “The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented.”

The Ever Given “will be repositioned to the Great Bitter Lake,” located halfway between the northern and southern ends of the Suez Canal, “for an inspection of its seaworthiness,” according to Evergreen Marine Corp., the Taiwanese firm that is leasing the chartered vessel.
“The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service,” Evergreen Marine Corp. said in a statement Monday. “Once the inspection is finalized, decisions will be made regarding arrangements for cargo currently on board.”

Suez Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabie was expected to announce the resumption of navigation through the canal on Monday evening.
The Ever Given, which is almost the size of the Empire State Building, was on its way from China to the Netherlands when it ran aground last Tuesday morning near the southern end of the 120-mile-long artificial waterway that slices through Egypt’s northeast corner. The Suez Canal Authority said a sandstorm and high winds had caused poor navigation and low visibility.

Shipping traffic came to a complete halt while the vessel remained stuck sideways across the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest trade routes that provides the shortest maritime link for goods traveling from Asia to Europe by connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns the Ever Given, said in a statement last Thursday that it was working with local authorities in the North African country to resolve the situation, which was proving “extremely difficult.”

“We sincerely apologize for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal,” the company added. As the blockage neared the one-week mark, there were growing concerns over how it could impact the global economy and supply chains. About 12% of the world’s trade volume passes through the Suez Canal, including approximately 1.9 billion barrels of oil per day.

AAPI Urges Government To Proactively Prevent Attacks on Asian Americans

(Chicago, IL: March 23, 2021) “AAPI wants to express our deep concerns and anguish about the violence the nation has witnessed against people of Asian origin,” Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, President of American Association of Physicians of India Origin (AAPI) said here today. In a statement issued here Dr. Jonnalagadda condemned the incidents of growing violence, and said, “We at AAPI, the largest ethnic medical organization in the nation, urge the federal, state and local Governments to make all the efforts possible to prevent violence against Asian Americans and all those innocent people around the nation who continue to suffer due to violence, harassment and discrimination.”

A coalition tracking reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans says it has received at least 3,795 firsthand complaints since last year.  Stop AAPI Hate began tracking violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in March last year.

From then through the end of 2020, Stop AAPI Hate received a total of 3,292 complaints from all 50 states and Washington, DC, according to a Stop AAPI Hate news release. There were at least 503 anti-Asian hate incidents reported between January 1 and February 28 according to the group’s latest report, released last week.

Quoting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dr. Sajani Shah, Chair of AAPI BOT, said, “AAPI recognizes that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, color or national origin. All human beings are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law against any discrimination and against any incitement to discrimination.”

While recognizing the pain and sufferings of the people impacted by the increasing violence and harassment against Asians and Asians Americans, especially in the past few months, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President-Elect  of AAPI stressed on the need for education. She said, “We commit to educating ourselves about racism that manifests in our own community. We will work to address racism and health disparities through policy and by working with affected communities and the healthcare providers who serve them. Our fate is linked to the fate of our fellow citizens, and our work must include lifting up and supporting all the communities so we can all thrive.”

“We stand in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the increasing violence and harassment against some minority groups,” said Dr. Ravi Kolli, Vice President of AAPI. “As immigrants to the U.S., our families may not always understand this history, but we join in solidarity with the minority communities and call for justice and peace.”

“We are saddened by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse each day. AAPI supports the Bills introduced by two Democratic lawmakers in the House and the Senate calling for the expedited review of hate crimes related to the pandemic,” ,” said Dr. Amit Chakrabarty, Secretary of AAPI.

 Rep. Grace Meng of New York, who sponsored the bill in the House, said she hopes the legislation tackles the “disgusting pattern of hate” that Asian Americans are facing since the start of the pandemic.

 “We thank and applaud President Joe Biden for condemning the hate and discrimination that Asian Americans have faced.  We support his call to do what we all as a nation can do to save lives, working with each other, preventing vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated,” said Dr. Satheesh Kathula, Treasurer of AAPI

 President Biden had said, “At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they’re on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives, and still, still they’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop,” he added.

 The members of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), an umbrella organization which has nearly 110 local chapters, specialty societies and alumni organizations, with over 37 years of history of dedicated services to their motherland and the adopted land, are appalled at the growing violence against our fellow citizens, Dr. Jonnalagadda said. “We strongly condemn this ongoing violence. And we want immediate action against the culprits, who have been carrying on these criminal acts.” For more information on AAPI, please visit: www.aapiusa.org

At GOPIO-CT Interactive Meeting Business Leaders Express Optimism

(Stamford, CT: March 26, 2021) COVID has impacted all aspects of our lives, and every community in the US and around the world has suffered immense losses due to the deadly virus, taking a toll on our emotional, physical and economic wellbeing. Indian American businesses, especially in the hospitality, travel & tour groups, restaurants and some professional practices, have suffered huge losses.  The Federal and state agencies have been helping many businesses and professional practitioners to get back to their normal business. However, much more help is needed to get back to normal.

 In this context, a virtual conference on the Zoom “Current and Post Covid: Getting Back to Normal Business – An Indian American Perspective in Connecticut” with Connecticut Lawmakers on Thursday, March 18th, was organized on by the GOPIO-CT Chapter, considered one of the most active chapters of GOPIO in cooperation with Milan Cultural Association of Hartford. Participants included state lawmakers and Indian American business leaders and professionals and was timely which provided an opportunity to share their perspectives on the impact of the Covid and how perceived the future. Connecticut lawmakers included Speaker of the Assembly Mitt Ritter, Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora and Rep. Harry Arora. The session was moderated by former Assemblyman Dr. Prasad Srinivasan

In his opening remarks, Dr. Thomas Abraham, Trustee and Chairman of Seminar Series, GOPIO-CT, set the tone for a lengthy discussion with sharing the context and the need for such a timely topic. “This is the first time the Indian American community in Connecticut is doing such a program, bringing together lawmakers and business leaders to come together and share their perspectives on Covid and its impact on the business community in CT. This webinar will also provide the participants to hear the personal experiences. As we come out of the pandemic, we also like to see how Connecticut can take new initiatives to reach out those businesses in India who may be candidates to set up shops in America as Infosys did successfully in Hartford about two years back.”

Cecil Nazareth, Managing Partner, Nazareth CPAs & Member of the Global Tax Policy Committee, Norwalk, CT, shared her experiences during the past year as her firm struggled with the lack of cash flow. “Demand plummeted, reducing cash flow,” Nazareth was appreciative of the Federal Government stepping in with remedial measures that have “immensely helped” especially with PPP loans, “which have been a big blessing.” With Covid impacting the businesses, they have learnt to do new ways of doing business. Nazareth sought additional funding from the state and federal governments in order for the economy to move on in a healthy manner, Nazareth expressed “optimism” in the outlook for the economy.

Representing the most impacted Hotel/Hospitality, Shelly Nichani, President, Infinity Hospitality Group, Stamford, CT, said, while the industry has been severely affected by the pandemic, “financial help from the Federal government has helped much, without which it would have been catastrophic.” While stating that the hospitality industry in CT has been doing overall very well, but the pandemic has halted the path to progress. He was optimistic that with the vaccines and state help, the industry will return to normal soon.

Puneet Ramchandani, Owner of Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge (Farmington. CT) and other restaurants, while acknowledging that “Our industry has suffered much,” he said, the most challenging task was to have his “staff come back to work after we had to lay of several of them due to the pandemic. Many preferred to stay home due to unemployment benefits, and not wanting to risk their health. We did adapt to new guidelines, which were sometimes more a roadblock. So many restrictions on staff and seating. If one staff is infected others needed to be quarantined.” While the state has allowed 100% capacity in restaurants, he lamented, “People are still hesitant to go to restaurants because of the stigma and fear of being infected.”

Speaking about the impact on the Engineering/Manufacturing industry, Rakesh Narang, Founder and President of the Wire and Plastic Machinery Corp., Bristol, CT expressed gratitude to the CT government “for all the help during the worst year. My business of fiber optics was classified as an essential business and therefore we did not have to shut down and the business ran without restrictions. Federal loans helped us a lot, and we are able to make part time employees into permanent employees. Our business has picked up with travel restrictions being lifted. Hope this year will be a great year,” he added.

Prasad Chintalapudi, Vice President, Panzer Solutions, Norwalk, CT, provided a worldwide view of the growth and expansion of the IT industry in the US and around the world, since the 1990s. While there have been several ups and downs faced by the IT industry, he said, “Never has it been affected as much as due to the Covid pandemic. 2020 was a devastating year, with 30 percent revenue lost in April alone. Many consultants were let go both in US and India and most nations. PPP was came as a big rescue plan, and we have slowly recovered and after the 3rd quarter things stabilized. While expressing concern that in the past year, “No new technologies came in,” he is confident, “cloud computing, working from home and AI, contributing to be optimistic in 2021.”

Ramya Subramanian, Founder and CEO, Arka Information System Intl, Stamford, CT, shared with the audience about how she has turned the pandemic into an opportunity by starting three new companies in 2020. “We have accepted the new normal with their safety measures with masking, reconfiguring the office.” Thanking the state of CT for responding well, the young pioneer, said, “the past year’s productivity has been really higher as people working from home.” What Covid taught us is to be able to stay healthy, cleaner environment, she said. “Greener planet will make it more sustainable.”

Dr. Susheel Gupta, President, Connecticut Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (CAPI), Woodridge, CT, provided a broader perspective on how medicine has changed Healthcare Delivery has changed forever. While describing it to be a “challenging year,” Dr. Gupta said, “Government assistance through Medicaid and Medicare and the PPP loans was a huge help. When we reopened offices, patients were able to reach us, and now through telemedicine, we are able to communicate with our patients.”  He agreed that “Things are normalizing slowly. However, the biggest challenge is that now more and more people are depressed needing medications to manage their mood, sleep. Vaccines will help normalize life and more visit to the offices and we will be able to serve them better,” he said.

Dr. Anil R. Diwan, President and Chairman, NanoVirisides, Inc., Shelton, CT, shared with the audience about his perspectives on Research and Development. His suggestion to the community is that “If vaccines is available, please take it. Even if you get sick, the impact will be far less.” In his opinion, “Vaccines and anti-bodies keep changing. We have gone through many types of viruses. Many had minimized the spread of Covid initially. We need to create a broad spectrum of antibody hat could attack the viruses.” He expressed confidence that his company is hopeful of finding treatment for the Covid virus.

In his keynote address, Speaker of CT House, Matt Ritter described 2020 as “strange year. Nothing we had ever anticipated, unprecedented. No state did perfectly. Our residents take seriously the advice of the government and scientific leaders. In CT, the vaccinations rates very high. It’s unfortunate that we had higher number of deaths. We will find ourselves, being able to reopen the state by Memorial Day.” While expressing gratitude for the contributions of the Indian Americans, Ritter said, “You make it diverse and successful. Collegiality and coordination between the two parties is highly appreciated.” Acknowledging that if things get worse, he said, “We will change the policy depending on the needs. By April 5th, all above 16 and up can get vaccines. That will make all the difference.”

In his response, CT Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora, praised the state of Connecticut, saying “Globally overall CT has done very well. Hospitals are competing for quality care. “Discoveries of treatment for Covid had started in CT, which is understated.  We need to work on the need for children. They are most impacted by our decisions. Kids got isolated more than others. We need to be focusing on the wellbeing of the kids.”

 Rep. Harry Arora, stated, “GOPIO is a great organization.” While admitting that the past one year has been a period of learning in almost all areas, testing for Covid, shutting down businesses and schools, Arora said, “No rule could be followed from the past. Looking back, we had shortcomings, but we did our best. I am an advocate of vaccines and need to have more available to those most vulnerable. If we have had more seniors vaccinated and mortality could be reduced. The objective is to keep it as flu status.”

Travel’s Dramatic Losses in 2020

The decline in travel due to COVID-19 has devastated our economy and torn at the very fabric of our society. Our economy suffered shocking impact—nearly $500 billion in lost travel spending, resulting in $64 billion in missed federal, state, and local tax revenue since the beginning of March.
Around the world, international arrivals are estimated to have dropped to 381 million in 2020, down from 1.461 billion in 2019 — a 74 percent decline. In countries whose economies are heavily reliant on tourism, the precipitous drop in visitors was, and remains, devastating.
According to recent figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the decline in international travel in 2020 resulted in an estimated loss of $1.3 trillion in global export revenues. As the agency notes, this figure is more than 11 times the loss that occurred in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for one out of every 10 jobs around the world. In many places, though, travel plays an even greater role in the local economy.
Consider the Maldives, where in recent years international tourism has accounted for around two-thirds of the country’s G.D.P., when considering direct and indirect contributions.
As lockdowns fell into place worldwide, international arrivals in the Maldives plunged; from April through September of 2020, they were down 97 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Throughout all of 2020, arrivals were down by more than 67 percent compared with 2019. (Arrival numbers slowly improved after the country reopened in July; the government, eager to promote tourism and mitigate losses, lured travelers with marketing campaigns and even courted influencers with paid junkets.)
This Fact Sheet provides key travel data, which showcases the dramatic losses suffered by the travel industry in 2020.
For more details, read: https://www.ustravel.org/research/fact-sheet-travels-dramatic-losses-2020

COVID Relief Bill Could Permanently Alter Social Safety Net

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is being hailed as a generational expansion of the social safety net, providing food and housing, health care and is a broad-based attack on the cycle of poverty.


With more than $6 billion for food security-related programs, more than $25 billion in emergency rental assistance, nearly $10 billion in emergency mortgage aid for homeowners, and extensions of already-expanded unemployment payments through early September, the package is full of provisions designed to help families and individuals survive and recover from pandemic-induced economic hardships.

“When you stand back and look at it, that’s when you really can appreciate the sheer scope of it,” said Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research & Action Center, a food-security advocacy group. “The scope is both impressive and much needed.”

Several aspects seem targeted at restructuring the country’s social safety net and actually lifting people out of poverty. It’s the kind of ambition and somewhat old school Democratic Party ideal that has observers referencing former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

“We haven’t seen a shift like this seen since FDR. It’s saying families are too big to fail, children are too big to fail, the elderly are too big to fail,” said Andre Perry, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “It’s a recognition that the social safety net is not working and was not working prior to the pandemic.”

Biden himself, when signing the package into law Thursday, referenced it as an overt attempt to redraw the country’s economic fault lines in a way that’s bigger than the pandemic. “This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance,” Biden said.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it “one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have the opportunity to support.”

Perry in particular pointed to the expansion of the child tax credit system as a potentially foundational change. The legislation provides families with up to $3,600 this year for each child and also expands the credit to millions of families currently making too little to qualify for the full benefits. “That is really going to put a dent in child poverty,” Perry said.

In promoting the child tax credit expansion, Democrats rallied around an analysis that predicted it would cut nationwide child poverty by 45%.

The legislation extends through September last year’s 15% increase in benefits offered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, commonly known as food stamps. It also provides extra funds to administer the expanded SNAP program and to expand access to SNAP online purchasing.

The package also includes what amounts to the biggest expansion of federal help for health insurance since the Obama-era Affordable Care Act more than 10 years ago. Several million people could see their health insurance costs reduced, and there’s also an incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage, if they haven’t already done so. Those changes, however, won’t be as immediate as the direct cash injections in other areas.

Housing advocates give generally positive reviews, saying the massive relief packages for both renters and home owners should be enough to stave off the debts incurred so far. “This is an appropriate response for an unprecedented time. Clearly there’s a tremendous need to avoid an eviction tsunami,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

But she also warned that the economic hardships, and need for assistance, will extend past the end of the pandemic. “Many of the jobs that low-income workers have lost won’t come back right away,” she said.

Yentel called on Biden to extend the national moratorium on evictions via executive order. The current moratorium, imposed by the Centers for Disease Control as part of the national health emergency, is being challenged in multiple court cases and expires at the end of March.

Many of the legislation’s changes are temporary, but advocates and Democratic legislators are talking openly about making some of them permanent. “Getting something out of the code is often times harder than getting something into the code,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., told reporters Tuesday, referring to the relief bill’s expansion of the child tax credit. He added, “What we did is unlikely to go away.”

At this point, the child tax credit expansion would expire at the end of the year without some sort of congressional intervention. But permanently enshrining those changes into law could be a battle. Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated the child tax credit’s cost at $110 billion, making it one of the single most expensive items in the whole package. Extending that over multiple years would be extremely costly, and would likely draw serious opposition, especially from Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, called Democrats’ expansion of those credits “sweeping new government benefits with no work requirements whatsoever,” suggesting the shape of the GOP opposition strategy ahead. But the provision is projected to lift millions of families out of poverty, and progressives believe there will be tremendous pressure on Republicans to allow the change.

Many also want to preserve the bill’s temporarily beefed up earned income tax credit, and its improved tax breaks for caring for children and dependents and for paid sick and family leave. A study by the Tax Policy Center concluded that the relief package would reduce federal taxes in 2021 by an average of $3,000 per household. Low- and moderate-income households (making $91,000 or less) would receive nearly 70 percent of the tax benefits, the study concluded.

“The question will be do they want child poverty to go back up again” by letting that credit expire, said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy for the liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

(Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.)

India’s FinTech valuation estimated at $150-160 billion by 2025

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on Saturday, March 14th unveiled ‘India FinTech: A USD 100 Billion Opportunity’ report. The report details the findings from the study that BCG and FICCI undertook to size the value-creation potential and identify imperatives for India’s FinTech growth.

Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI said, “The FinTech industry in India has been growing at a fast clip. FinTech players are redefining the business models across different segments of financial services industry, helping improve service delivery and contributing to digital financial inclusion. This is a clear area of focus for us in FICCI and through our multiple initiatives, we will continue to promote this industry both in India and abroad.”

India’s dynamic FinTech industry has 2100+ FinTechs of which 67% have been set up over the last 5 years alone. The total valuation of the industry is estimated at $50-$60 billion. The industry’s growth has been undeterred by the pandemic, as it has seen the emergence of 3 new Unicorns and 5 new Soonicorns (USD 500Mn+ valuation) since January 2020.

The Fintech industry’s strong growth is due to India’s deep-rooted customer demand, diverse capital flows, strong tech talent and enabling policy framework. Over the next 5 years, India’s FinTech industry is expected to continue its strong upward trajectory.

Prateek Roongta, Managing Director and Partner, Boston Consulting Group India said, “We believe India’s FinTechs are at the precipice of significant value-creation of USD 100 billion over the next five years. To actualize this potential, the industry would require investments to the tune of USD 20-25 billion till 2025. Consequently, the number of Indian FinTech Unicorns will more than double over the next few years.”

Ruchin Goyal, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Boston Consulting Group India said, “The landscape will be defined by FinTechs that pursue their strategic play with deep, relentless discipline. Tomorrow’s FinTech winners are expected to ‘master the core’ — by innovating on product, user-experience or through deep-tech capabilities. India will also see the emergence of ecosystem orchestrators and multinational FinTechs, as it evolves into a global FinTech powerhouse.”

Another theme covered in this report is internationalization of Indian FinTechs. To develop a close understanding of the FinTech industry’s multinational ambitions, BCG and FICCI conducted the BCG-FICCI FinTech survey 2021. The survey reveals that 39% of Indian FinTechs surveyed have a presence outside India and 73% of FinTechs surveyed are actively considering international expansion opportunities. South-East Asia was the most sought-after destination for international expansion, followed by North America.

Several Indian FinTechs are well-positioned to establish a global footprint owing to their transplantable business models and proven track record of success. To ensure that Indian FinTechs achieve their potential, all stakeholders — FinTechs, Financial Institutions and policymakers — have a role to play. The imperatives for stakeholders have been identified in the report. (IANS)

Mortgage Raise Above 3% For The First Time In Recent Times

Americans who purchased new homes or refinanced their mortgages over the past few months may have done so at just the right moment. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.02%, mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac said Thursday. It is the first time the rate on America’s most popular home loan has risen above 3% since July and the fifth consecutive week it has increased or held steady.

Mortgage rates fell throughout most of 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the economy. That helped power the biggest boom in mortgage lending since before the financial crisis, fueled by refinancings. When rates hit 2.98% in July, it was their first time under the 3% mark in about 50 years of record-keeping.

The recent upward moves paint a clear contrast: More vaccinations in the U.S. and recent progress on the latest coronavirus relief bill have brightened investors’ outlook on the economy, a key variable in determining borrowing rates.

Mortgage rates tend to move in the same direction as the yield on the 10-year Treasury, which has been rising. Treasury yields rise when investors feel confident enough in the economy to forgo safe-haven assets such as bonds for riskier ones including stocks. Last week, the yield hit its highest level in a year.

Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater said he expects a strong sales season, partly because he thinks “the uptrend in rates from here will be more muted than the past few weeks.” The Federal Reserve has said it would maintain ultralow interest rates until the economy improves.

The rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage increased to 3.02% this week, up from 2.97% the previous week, according to Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored agency that backs millions of mortgages. That was the first time the rate exceeded 3% since the third week in July and the highest level since the first full week in July, when the rate was 3.03%.

The average rate on 30-year fixed mortgages surged over 3% this week, hitting that benchmark for the first time in seven months.

The rise in rates isn’t a surprise. With expectations that the economy will start to recover and the potential for increasing inflation, many experts see mortgage rates rising in 2021.

However, it’s important to note that even with the recent rate growth, both mortgage and refinance rates remain historically low. As recently as May 2019, rates were over 4%, so many homeowners still have the opportunity to save with a mortgage refinance or purchase a new home at a low rate.

Here’s what rising rates might mean for you.

Rates have surged 0.37% from an all-time low of 2.65% in early January and now sit at 3.02%, according to Freddie Mac. For someone taking out a $250,000 30-year mortgage, this increase in rates would add about $49 to your monthly payment and cost roughly $17,800 more in interest over the life of the loan.

Mortgage interest rates aren’t expected to continue to rise at this rate. “The rise in mortgage rates over the next couple of months is likely to be more muted in comparison to the last few weeks,”  Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater said in a statement released yesterday. So don’t expect to see the real estate market turn into a buyers market anytime soon.

This rapid increase in rates has been driven, in part, by rising long-term Treasury bond yields, which topped 1.5%. “Interest rates have been volatile recently, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury increasing about 50 basis points from where it was at the start of the year,” Freddie Mac deputy chief economist Len Kiefer wrote in an email. And that has put pressure on mortgage rates, which historically have moved in tandem with 10-year Treasury bond yields.

For now, however, the message remains the same: If you’re financially ready to buy or refinance a home, today’s mortgage interest rates are historically low.

Massachusetts and Connecticut Hold 8 Out of the Top 10 Best Places to Live

Expertise.com, a resource that evaluates and publishes the best local experts, has published a comprehensive report on the safest cities and towns in the U.S. The study ranks the safest to most dangerous cities and towns with a population of 10,000 or more. Research experts collected data from the FBI Crime Database and used a detailed methodology to assess each municipality.

The top five safest cities are Wayland, Massachusetts, Frederick, Colorado, Weston, Connecticut, Clinton, Massachusetts, and Sagamore Hills, Ohio. Massachusetts and Connecticut held 8 out of the top 10 best places to live, three cities from Connecticut and five from Massachusetts.

In contrast, the five most dangerous cities and towns are spread across various states. The lowest ranking areas on the list are Muskegon Heights, Michigan, Tukwila, Washington, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The pandemic has created more opportunities to work remotely, and people now have the flexibility to explore other cities,” says David Franklin, General Manager of Expertise.com. “This study was conducted to help Americans assess different relocation options and address public safety concerns.”

Researchers at Expertise.com accessed crucial data from the FBI’s 2019 National Incident-Based Reporting System. Each city was evaluated based on the number of violent crimes, other crimes to persons, and other crimes to property per 1,000 residents. The report highlights 1,434 cities and towns and the final scores were generated using a percentile rank formula.

Top 10 Safest Cities and Towns in America

  1. Wayland, MA
  2. Frederick, CO
  3. Weston, CT
  4. Clinton, MA
  5. Sagamore Hills, OH
  6. Newtown, CT
  7. Madison, CT
  8. Franklin, MA
  9. Medway, MA
  10. Hopkinton, MA.

US Suspends Tariffs On Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The US has agreed to suspend tariffs on UK goods including single malt whiskies that were imposed in retaliation over subsidies to the aircraft maker Airbus.  Tariffs will also be lifted on UK cheese, cashmere and machinery.

The duties will be suspended for four months while the two sides seek a long-term settlement. On 1 January, the UK dropped its own tariffs on some US goods, put in place over a related dispute about US subsidies to Boeing.

It is the latest twist in a decades-old trade row that has seen the EU and the US target billions of dollars worth of each other’s exports with taxes.

The UK is part of the dispute as a former EU member. Airbus makes wings and other parts in the UK, but assembles its commercial aircraft in the EU. It has hit Scotch whisky producers particularly hard as the US is a key export market. Distilleries have reported £500m of losses since 2019 due to the tariffs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the trade truce, due to come into force on Monday, would boost British business. “From Scotch whisky distillers to Stilton-makers, the US decision to suspend tariffs on some UK exports today will benefit businesses right across the UK,” he tweeted.

“Fantastic news as we strengthen the UK-US trading relationship and work to build back better from the pandemic.” Simon Cotton, boss of Speyside-based textiles firm Johnston’s of Elgin, says he’s “absolutely delighted” the tariffs have been suspended.

The company, which employs 850 people, has been taking a “25% hit” on every knitwear product it exports to the US – “a significant cost” at a time when Covid and Brexit also pose challenges.

In Speyside many other businesses have felt the impact of the US tariffs, including whisky distilleries and shortbread makers.

“This has been a particularly difficult tax for the businesses here, so it’s a huge relief for the region,” says Mr Cotton. “We’re hoping this paves the way for a permanent removal of these tariffs.”

Karen Betts, head of the Scotch Whisky Association, called the suspension “fabulous news”. “The tariff on single malt Scotch whisky exports to the US has been doing real damage to Scotch whisky in the 16 months it has been in place, with exports to the US falling by 35%,” she said.

“So today, everyone in our industry – from small companies to large – is breathing a sigh of relief.” For more than a decade, the EU and US accused each other of propping up their home aviation markets with tax breaks, research grants and other aid.

But tensions flared in 2019, when former US president Donald Trump retaliated by putting tariffs on $7.5bn (£5.4bn) of EU goods, including UK products such as whisky.

Since it left the EU, the UK has been lobbying Washington to drop the duties on its goods as it seeks a wide-ranging trade deal with the US. Talks with Washington abruptly broke off in January but resumed after Joe Biden became US president.

Biden’s top trade nominee, Katherine Tai, has said she will make it a priority to resolve the row with the EU and Britain – although for now US tariffs continue to apply to EU goods. In a joint statement on Thursday, the UK and the US said that the suspension would “ease the burden on industry and take a bold, joint step towards resolving the longest-running disputes at the World Trade Organization”.

The two countries added that it would also allow time to focus on negotiating “a balanced settlement to the disputes, and begin seriously addressing the challenges posed by new entrants to the civil aviation market from non-market economies, such as China”.

Airbus welcomed the removal of “lose-lose tariffs” and urged the UK and US governments to reach a long-term settlement.  More than £500m-worth of whisky sales have been lost since October 2019, when the 25% tariff was introduced on single malt Scotch. Smaller distillers were hit hardest.

The US is the biggest single-nation export market by value. President Trump’s US Trade Representative reckoned it was a good source of political leverage in the 17-year trade dispute over aircraft manufacturing.

Scottish cashmere sweaters were also targeted. In the political calculation of trade disputes, the US did not include Irish whiskey or Italian cashmere, giving them the opportunity to exploit the rift and grow market share.

It was not until last autumn that the European Union and the UK won the right, at the World Trade Organisation, to hit back over Boeing subsidies by US governments. That levelled the field on which to negotiate a resolution.

Donald Trump used trade tariffs as a bludgeon intended to protect American jobs, and although Joe Biden is not noted as an enthusiast for globalisation and free trade, this suspension of tariffs signals his administration is in the business of negotiated deals between partners.

It acknowledges the trans-Atlantic partners should perhaps focus more on manufacturing competition from China. But there is work to be done: the EU, UK and US have not only the Boeing/Airbus dispute to resolve, but another one over steel and aluminium, which explains the 25% tariff currently on imported American whiskey.

For Liz Truss and the UK government’s attempts to secure post-Brexit trade deals, this is a significant step forward. It seems the Biden administration is not prioritising the European Union ahead of Britain. However, a UK-US free trade deal is a long way from here.

What Is In For You In The $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill Congress Passed?

The Democrat controlled US House of Representatives approved a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, advancing President Joe Biden’s top agenda item and providing more resources to schools and businesses, boost funding for vaccinations and testing, and grant financial relief to Americans across the country.

Democrats passed the measure early Saturday morning, Feb. 27th in a party-line vote, with Republicans united against the bill calling for slimmer, more-targeted relief. All but two Democrats supported the bill in the 219-212 vote, and no Republicans backed the package.

Democrats have advanced the coronavirus legislation using the budget reconciliation process, in a bid to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and pass their package with a simple majority of votes, given the slim 50-50 divide in the upper chamber.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week, after the chamber’s parliamentarian ruled that Democrats could not include a $15 minimum wage in the proposal over budgetary concerns. “This started almost a year ago,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said of the pandemic ahead of the House vote. “Today’s vote is a crucial step in our fight to defeat COVID-19.”

The American Rescue Plan would provide $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans across the country and extend federal unemployment benefits through the summer. It would also provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to state and local governments, schools and vaccine and COVID-19 testing efforts — in addition to nutritional and child care assistance.

While Democrats and the White House have touted public polls showing broad bipartisan support for the measure, and the endorsements of state and local GOP leaders, House Republicans are expected to vote against the bill as a bloc. For weeks, they have argued that Democrats’ proposal is too expensive and ignores the $4 trillion in coronavirus relief approved by Congress last year, some of which remains unspent.

“This isn’t a relief bill,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday. “It takes care of Democrats’ political allies while it fails to deliver for American families.” Americans “want us to actually work together, to come together and solve the problems in a bipartisan way,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, said on the House floor. “I think that message was clear. And the more the majority ignores it, the shorter their majority will be.”

Biden had briefly engaged with a group of 10 Senate Republicans pushing an alternative to his plan, but rejected their $600 billion counteroffer as too meager, arguing it did not meet the moment and would cut spending on key programs included in his legislation.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced they would offer an amendment to the budget bill, once it comes over from the House, that would penalize “large, profitable corporations” through the elimination of tax deductions” if those companies do not raise the minimum wage for their workers to “at least $15 an hour.” The two chairmen also said that measure would offer incentives to small businesses to raise worker wages.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would still “absolutely” pass the package without the minimum wage increase, and members of the caucus reaffirmed their commitment to the issue on Friday. “I’m not going to stop till we get it,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Friday.

Look at some highlights of the legislation:

  • The legislation provides a rebate that amounts to $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent. Individuals earning up to $75,000 would get the full amount as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000.
  • The size of the check would shrink for those making slightly more with a hard cut-off at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for married couples.
  • Some Republicans want to cut the size of the rebate as well as the pool of Americans eligible for it, but Biden has insisted on $1,400 checks, saying “that’s what the American people were promised.” The new round of checks will cost the government an estimated $422 billion.
  • Under current law, most taxpayers can reduce their federal income tax bill by up to $2,000 per child. The package moving through the House would increase the tax break to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6.
  • The legislation also calls for the payments to be delivered monthly instead of in one lump sum. If the secretary of the Treasury determines that isn’t feasible, then the payments are to be made as frequently as possible.
  • Also, families would get the full credit regardless of how little they make in a year, even just a few hundred dollars, leading to criticism that the changes would serve as a disincentive to work. Add in the $1,400 per individual checks and other items in the proposal, and the legislation would reduce the number of children living in poverty by more than half, according to an analysis from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.
  • The legislation would send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments. While Republicans in Congress have largely objected to this initiative, Biden’s push has some GOP support among governors and mayors.
  • Many communities have taken hits to their tax base as millions of people have lost their jobs and as people stay home and avoid restaurants and stores to prevent getting COVID-19. Many areas have also seen expenses rise as they work to treat the sick and ramp up vaccinations.
  • But the impact varies from state to state and from town to town. Critics say the funding is not appropriately targeted and is far more than necessary with billions of dollars allocated last spring to states and communities still unspent.
  • The bill calls for $130 billion in additional help to schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The money would be used to reduce class sizes and modify classrooms to enhance social distancing, install ventilation systems and purchase personal protective equipment. The money could also be used to increase the hiring of nurses, counselors and to provide summer school.
  • Spending for colleges and universities would be boosted by $40 billion, with the money used to defray an institution’s pandemic-related expenses and to provide emergency aid to students to cover expenses such as food and housing and computer equipment.
  • The bill provides another round of relief for airlines and eligible contractors, $15 billion, so long as they refrain from furloughing workers or cutting pay through September. It’s the third round of support for airlines.
  • A new program for restaurants and bars hurt by the pandemic would receive $25 billion. The grants provide up to $10 million per entity with a limit of $5 million per physical location. The grants can be used to cover payroll, rent, utilities and other operational expenses.
  • The bill also provides another $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a tiny fraction of what was allocated in previous legislation. The loans are designed to help borrowers meet their payroll and operating costs and can potentially be forgiven.
  • Expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government would be extended, with an increase from $300 a week to $400 a week. That’s on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program.
  • The bill provides money for key elements of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, while also trying to advance longstanding Democratic priorities like increasing coverage under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
  • On “Obamacare,” it dangles a fiscal carrot in front of a dozen states, mainly in the South, that have not yet taken up the law’s Medicaid expansion to cover more low-income adults. Whether such a sweetener would be enough to start wearing down longstanding Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion is uncertain.
  • The bill provides $46 billion to expand federal, state and local testing for COVID-19 and to enhance contract tracing capabilities with new investments to expand laboratory capacity and set up mobile testing units. It also contains about $14 billion to speed up the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.


  • The bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by June 2025 and then adjust it to increase at the same rate as median hourly wages. However, that provision is not expected to survive in the final bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that it cannot be included in the COVID-19 economic relief package under the process Democrats chose to undertake to get a bill passed with a simple majority.

Biden had predicted such a result. Still, the ruling was a stinging setback for most Democratic lawmakers who had said the higher minimum wage would increase the pay for millions of Americans. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had projected the new federal minimum wage would lift some 900,000 people out of poverty once it was fully in place. But Republicans said the mandatory wage hikes would make it harder for small businesses to survive and they pointed to the CBO’s projection that about 1.4 million jobs would be lost as employers looked for ways to offset their higher personnel costs.

US Debt Soars To $29 Trillion, Owes India $216 Billion

The US, the world’s largest economy, owes India USD 216 billion in loan as the country’s debt grows to a record USD 29 trillion, an American lawmaker has said, cautioning the leadership against galloping foreign debt, the largest of which comes from China and Japan.

In 2020, the US national debt was USD 23.4 trillion, that was USD 72,309 in debt per person. “We are going to grow our debt to USD 29 trillion. That is even more debt owed per citizen. There is a lot of misinformation about where the debt is going. The top two countries we owe the debt to are China and Japan, not actually our friends,” Congressman Alex Mooney said.

“We are at global competition with China all the time. They are holding a lot of the debt. We owe China over USD 1 trillion and we owe Japan over USD 1 trillion,” the Republican Senator from West Virginia said on the floor of the US House of Representatives as he and others opposed the latest stimulus package of USD 2 trillion.

In January, US President Joe Biden announced a USD 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic, including direct financial aid to average Americans, support to businesses and to provide a boost to the national vaccination programme.

“The people who are loaning us the money we have to pay back are not necessarily people who have our best interest at heart. Brazil, we owe USD 258 billion. India, we owe USD 216 billion. And the list goes on the debt that is owed to foreign countries,” Congressman Mooney said.

America’s national debt was USD5.6 trillion in 2000. During the Obama administration, it actually doubled.

“Since the eight years Obama was President, we doubled our national debt. And we are adding another—projected here—a completely out of control debt-to-GDP ratio,” he said urging his Congressional colleagues to consider this national debt issue before approving the stimulus package.

“So I urge my colleagues to consider the future. Don’t buy into the—the government has no money it doesn’t take from you that you are going to have to pay back. We need to be judicious with these dollars, and most of this is not going to coronavirus relief anyway,” he said.

Congressmen Mooney said that things have gone completely out of control. The Congressional Budget Office estimates an additional USD 104 trillion will be added by 2050. The Congressional Budget Office forecasted debt would rise 200 per cent.

“Today, as I stand here right now, we have USD 27.9 trillion in national debt…That is actually a little more than USD 84,000 of debt to every American citizen right here today,” Mooney said.

Gasoline Could Be Around The Corner — Unless OPEC And Russia Start Pumping More Oil

OPEC and Russia’s unprecedented production cuts last spring lifted oil prices out of a death spiral. Nearly a year later, the group is under pressure to cool off the red-hot market. US crude has raced back above $60 a barrel. That’s a far cry from the depths it reached last April when oil crashed below zero (negative $40.32 a barrel, to be exact) for the first time in history. Prices at the pump are starting to creep higher, too. The national average hit $2.70 a gallon Friday, according to AAA. That’s well above the April low of $1.76 per gallon.

Investors are betting the pandemic will soon be under control — and that in turn will unleash pent-up demand for road trips, cruises, flights and other oil-consuming activities.

Against this backdrop, OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, are scheduled to meet Thursday to deliberate whether to add more barrels into to the hungry market. They’ve certainly got the firepower, and the price incentive, to do just that.

Last year, OPEC+ slashed output by a record-shattering 9.7 million barrels per day. The emergency steps, along with production cuts by US and other producers, drove a strong rebound in prices. That recovery has accelerated in recent months as millions of people around the world have gotten vaccinated against Covid.

OPEC+ could soon announce the market is now healthy enough to step up production this spring.  “Given the allure of higher prices, there should be more supply coming onto the market,” said Ryan Fitzmaurice, energy strategist at Rabobank.

Indeed, sources within OPEC+ told Reuters last week that an output increase of half a million barrels per day beginning in April is possible without building up inventories, although a final decision had not been made.

“Given where prices are, how will anyone tell Russia that they need to curtail production?” said Jim Mitchell, head of Americas oil analysts at Refinitiv. There are several good reasons for OPEC+ to release more barrels.

First, higher prices mean countries like Saudi Arabia that rely on oil to balance their budgets can bring in badly-needed revenue.  Second, if OPEC+ doesn’t start producing more, other countries will. That includes frackers in Texas who were sidelined by the oil crash.

Bank of America strategists told clients in a recent note that OPEC+ will “preserve market share” by pumping more soon. During the second quarter alone, Bank of America expects OPEC+ to add more than 1.3 million barrels per day of supply.

There’s another reason OPEC+ will want to act before it’s too late: self-preservation.  If gasoline prices keep rising and hit $3 a gallon — and beyond — it will only accelerate clean energy investments and persuade more drivers to dump their gas-guzzling SUVs for electric vehicles.  “If oil shoots up to extreme levels,” said Rabobank’s Fitzmaurice, “that only helps the renewables story and eats away at oil demand.”

The switch to electric means more costly recalls

Hyundai is recalling 82,000 electric cars globally to replace their batteries after 15 reports of fires involving the vehicles. Despite the relatively small number of cars involved, the recall is one of the most expensive in history.

The numbers: The recall will cost Hyundai 1 trillion Korean won, or $900 million. On a per-vehicle basis, the average cost is $11,000 — an astronomically high number for a recall.

The episode signals how electric car defects could create hefty costs for automakers — at least in the near future, report my colleagues Chris Isidore and Peter Valdes-Dapena.

The recall is another indication of just how expensive EV batteries are relative to the cost of the entire car. Until the cost of batteries comes down, through greater production worldwide and economies of scale, the cost of making electric vehicles will remain higher than comparable gasoline cars.

Once batteries do become less expensive, as is expected in the coming years, electric cars could become much cheaper to build because they have fewer moving parts and require as much as 30% fewer hours of labor for assembly compared to traditional vehicles.

Fewer parts on electric vehicles could also mean that auto recalls become less common in the future. But for now, there could be significant costs if battery fire problems require battery replacements.

Fishermen in Sothern Indian State Ask Govt To Scrap Fishing Project

Traditional fishermen are opposing a multimillion-dollar overseas deep-sea fishing project in Kerala that they say threatens the livelihood of ordinary fisher people in the southern Indian coastal state. Permitting overseas firms to join deep-sea fishing will further impoverish Kerala’s traditional fishermen, they say.

Following criticism from opposition leaders and rights groups, the communist-led state government withdrew two memoranda of understanding it signed with a US-based firm that allegedly violated the state’s fishing policy and the rights of poor fisher people.

The goverment on Feb. 24 withdrew from the MoU signed with EMCC International India Pvt Limited, a US-based firm, for a US$680 million project that purportedly aims to revamp and modernize the state’s fishing industry.

The government also canceled another MoU with the same firm for manufacturing 400 deep-sea fishing vessels and developing the state’s fishing harbors at a cost of some $400 million.

“But still we are not sure if it has scrapped the entire project. We want an assurance from the government that it will not move ahead with the project,” said Father Jacob G. Palackappilly, deputy secretary-general of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council. Many suspect the government quickly pulled out of the MoU a week after criticism began to surface in the media in the state, where elections are due in April-May.

Christian leaders like Father Palackappilly say the project would push Kerala’s fishermen further into poverty as the multinational operation would take away the lion’s share of an already dwindling catch.

Further, deep-sea fishing would eventually reduce fish wealth in the littoral zone on which thousands of Kerala fishermen on country craft depend for their daily sustenance.

“The government claims the projects will ensure the welfare of all, but our past experience shows that such government promises are seldom translated into reality,” Father Palakappilly told UCA News on Feb. 25.

The state of 33 million people has some 200,000 fishermen active on the Arabian Sea, at least half of them Catholics, mostly in the coastal districts of Trivandrum, Kollam, Alappuzha and Kozhikode.

“Our fishermen are so traditional that they are unable to cope with challenges from the multinational companies (MNCs) entering into the field with highly mechanized boats and trawlers,” said Father Kudiamssery, public relations officer of Alappuzha Diocese.

“If MNCs venture into their traditional work, the poor will be left jobless,” Father Kudiamssery, who was supporting the fishermen’s protest against the project, told UCA News on Feb. 25.

Father Thomas Tharayil, general secretary of the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Council, said traditional fishing using motorized boats is restricted within 12 nautical miles distance from the shore.

“Climate change has substantially reduced their catch within the permissible distance. Now, many of them step into deep-sea fishing as well,” said the priest.

Overseas firms coming for deep-sea fishing “will automatically lead to fighting between them and traditional fishermen. Instead, the state should empower the local fishermen for deep-sea fishing,” Father Tharayil added.

“The Catholic bishops want the government to clarify whether it has scrapped the project entirely or only canceled the MoU.”

Work on the project began in 2018. “So much work has been done in two years. Therefore, church leaders and fishermen suspect the government will continue with the project after the election,” Father Tharayil said.

Kerala’s communist-led government is hoping to be re-elected to power in the 140-member state assembly before the five-year term of this government ends on June 1.

Universal Health Coverage Is Within Our Reach

A rare opportunity has presented itself: physicians, hospitals, insurers and employers have come together to agree on a common path forward to cover the uninsured through an Affordable Coverage Coalition that is the first of its kind. As a group, we recognize that universal health coverage is a goal we all must support, especially during a public health crisis with the magnitude of COVID-19.


Our AMA strongly believes that everyone should have access to meaningful and affordable health insurance coverage. We and our partners in the newly formed coalition also believe we can achieve universal health coverage by offering increased financial help to patients to help them afford their coverage, incentivizing states that have not yet done so to expand Medicaid, taking steps to automatically enroll low-income patients in no-cost health insurance coverage, and minimizing the loss of health insurance coverage resulting from pandemic-related unemployment.


Major consensus

These and other steps can help achieve universal coverage, a goal that has eluded our nation for decades, as outlined by the Affordable Coverage Coalition. This new partnership is notable for several reasons, but perhaps the most important is the fact it represents a consensus by all the major players in health care about the best way ahead.


That path aligns with AMA’s plan to cover the uninsured, which is based on longstanding AMA policy in support of expanding access to and choice of affordable, quality health insurance coverage. The AMA plan recognizes that affordable coverage options available due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—subsidized ACA marketplace coverage and the Medicaid expansion—are more critical than ever, serving as a needed safety net for those who have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage due to job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Covering the uninsured also is a key component in any strategy to eliminate longstanding inequities in our health care system that have yielded devastating health outcomes for Black, Latino and Indigenous communities, members of the LGBTQ community, and other historically marginalized groups.


The steps we and our partners in the Affordable Coverage Coalition recommend include:

Expanding eligibility for and increasing the size of premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions to help more people afford their premiums and cost-sharing responsibilities in the ACA marketplaces.


Establishing an “insurance affordability fund” to provide support for reinsurance programs to offset the costs of covering higher-risk patients, or otherwise lower premiums and cost-sharing for ACA marketplace enrollees.

Automatically enrolling—and renewing—those who are eligible for Medicaid and no-premium ACA marketplace plans.


Adequately funding navigator, outreach and enrollment programs to increase public awareness of and enrollment in ACA marketplace coverage and Medicaid/CHIP.

Providing incentives for additional states to expand Medicaid in order to close the low-income coverage gap.


Taking steps to prevent people who have lost or are at risk of losing employer-provided health coverage from becoming uninsured.


Physicians know that patients who are uninsured delay or skip the care they need, and often live sicker and die younger. While millions of Americans have gained coverage resulting from the ACA, our work to cover the uninsured is not done. The AMA believes that now is the time to invest not only in fixing the law, but also in enhancing it.

The agreement of the Affordable Coverage Coalition outlined above will further that mission. Our AMA remains firmly committed to improving health insurance coverage and health care access so that patients receive timely, high-quality care, preventive services, medications and other necessary treatments. We now have an opportunity to help make that happen.

A Full Year Of Americans’ Life Expectancy Lost Due To Covid

Life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year in the first six months of 2020, the federal government reported on Thursday, the largest drop since World War II and a grim measure of the deadly consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.


Life expectancy is the most basic measure of the health of a population, and the stark decline over such a short period is highly unusual and a signal of deep distress. The drop comes after a troubling series of smaller declines driven largely by a surge in drug overdose deaths. A fragile recovery over the past two years has now been wiped out.


The data gives the first full picture of the pandemic’s effect on American expected life spans, which dropped to 77.8 years from 78.8 years in 2019. It also showed a deepening of racial and ethnic disparities: Life expectancy of the Black population declined by 2.7 years in the first half of 2020, slicing away 20 years of gains. The life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans, which had been narrowing, is now at six years, the widest it has been since 1998.


“I knew it was going to be large but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Elizabeth Arias, the federal researcher who produced the report, said of the racial disparity. Of the drop for the full population, she said, “We haven’t seen a decline of that magnitude in decades.”


Still, unlike the drop in life expectancy caused by the long-running, complex problem of drug overdoses, this one, driven largely by Covid-19, is not likely to last as long because deaths from the virus are easing and the population is slowly getting vaccinated. The last time a pandemic caused a major decline in life expectancy was 1918, when hundreds of thousands of Americans died from the flu pandemic. Life expectancy declined by a whopping 11.8 years from 1917 to 1918, Dr. Arias said, bringing average life spans down to 39 years. But it fully rebounded the following year as deaths eased.


Data released by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a decline of one year in the life expectancy of Americans during the first half of 2020 as the first wave of novel coronavirus hit the country. This is the biggest fall in life expectancy in the US since World War 2.


Life expectancy at birth is defined as the number of years a baby born today can expect to live. A baby born between January-June 2020 in the US had a life expectancy of 77.8 years, which is a full year shorter than the 78.8 years a baby born in 2019 is expected to live. In terms of gender divide, it was 75.1 years for males and 80.5 years for females.

The hardest hit has been the Black community, which saw a drop of 2.7 years in their life expectancy, to 72, followed by the Hispanics whose life expectancy declined 1.9 years to 79.9 years and Whites, who saw a drop of 0.8 years in their life expectancy to 78. The 6 year glaring chasm between the life expectancy of the Blacks and the Whites reverses a trend of narrowing the gap since 1993. There was no preliminary data for Asians and Native Americans

U.S. Chamber of Commerce To Have New Leadership

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is beginning one of its most consequential transitions in decades. In mid-March, CEO Tom Donohue will step down after 24 years leading the largest and most impactful business advocacy organization in the world, which serves as the voice for thousands of businesses operating across 45 countries.

Incoming Chamber President & CEO Suzanne Clark brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked at the Chamber for 16 years and in the private sector for decades. Through a uniquely tumultuous year, Suzanne has served as a “trusted partner, leading the team and designing the strategy for the Chamber’s bright future.” You can read some of her initial thoughts on U.S. global engagement and our responsibility to advance the greater good.

USIBC President Nisha Biswal will also take on an expanded role at the Chamber as Senior Vice President for International Strategy and Global Initiatives, encompassing global security, sustainability and climate. The portfolio addition comes at a crucial time as the Chamber expands its cross-cutting work.


This week, the pivotal organization hosted ‘The State of U.S.-India Business’ with Indian Minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal, Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu and USIBC’s recently announced Global Board Vice Chairs. In remarks on the road ahead for U.S.-India commercial and strategic ties, Ambassador Sandhu and Minister Goyal laid out their vision for a more ambitious bilateral trade agenda. In his keynote, Minister Goyal made headlines by suggesting that the previously negotiated mini trade deal was off the table, but pledged to engage with the new U.S. Trade Representative on a broader agreement. He also emphasized the need for collaboration to address emerging challenges on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and healthcare access tied to India’s COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution. The public session was preceded by a closed-door roundtable with Minister Goyal and senior executives from the USIBC membership.

It continued conversations on the U.S.-India partnership with the launch of our new ‘Accelerate to 500’ series, which focuses on trade opportunities generated at the city and state level. Accelerate to 500, presented in collaboration with law firms, investment agencies and professional services firms, helps chart a path towards the goal of $500 billion in two-way trade. During the session, which featured remarks by Invest India MD & CEO Deepak Bagla and Acting Under Secretary for International Trade Diane Farrell, we also launched a ‘Doing Business in India’ report developed in collaboration with Nishith Desai Associates and Sannam S4.
This week also saw the first meeting of the ‘Quad’ since the Biden administration took office, and the 3rd since the grouping was established. The session focused on cooperation on COVID-19 response and recovery and climate change. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar and counterparts from Australia and Japan also discussed countering disinformation, counter-terrorism, maritime security, and democratic resilience. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs readout of the session focused on “rules-based international order, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty,” noteworthy given the recent drawdown of troops from the disputed India-China border region.

The week ended with cheers from the global community as the United States formally rejoined the Paris Agreement. While a return to the Agreement has long been a priority for President Biden, his administration will now face the more challenging task of convincing skeptics at home and abroad that it is serious about its emissions-cutting commitments.

Looking ahead, USIBC will continue its high level engagements next week with a post-budget conversation featuring Secretary of Economic Affairs Tarun Bajaj, focused on maximizing the impact of the FY21-22 Union Budget.

Is India Moving Towards A Four-Day Work Week?

The proposed new labor codes could provide companies with the flexibility of four working days in a week, even as the working hours limit of 48 hours for a week will remain “sacrosanct”, Labor and Employment Secretary Apurva Chandra said

As the government finalizes the rules for the new labour codes, the Labour Ministry is now considering giving flexibility to companies to have four working days instead of five or six.

The proposal: The proposed new labor codes could provide companies with the flexibility of four working days in a week, even as the working hours limit of 48 hours for a week will remain “sacrosanct”, Labour and Employment Secretary Apurva Chandra said on Monday.

This implies that there will be longer working hours if the working days are reduced. For instance, a four working day week will have to meet the 48-hour weekly work hours, resulting in daily shifts of 12 hours, which will correspondingly reduce if there is five-day or six-day working week.

When and how will this be rolled out: The Ministry of Labour and Employment is likely to complete the process to finalise the rules for four labour codes soon. The provision of flexibility to have reduced working days of four days in the labour code rules will mean that companies will not require prior government nod to enact it.

The Labor Secretary, however, clarified that having a reduced number of working days does not mean a cut in paid holidays. Therefore, when the new rules will provide flexibility of four working days, it would imply three paid holidays.

“It (working days) could come down below five. If it is four, then you have to provide three paid holidays…so if it has to be a seven day week, then it has to be divided into 4, 5 or 6 working days,” Chandra said.

The rulemaking process is already underway and likely to be completed in the coming week. “All stakeholders are also consulted in framing of rules. This ministry would soon be in a position to bring into force the four Codes, viz., Code on Wages, Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) and Social Security Codes,” Chandra had said.

The labour ministry had envisaged implementing the four labour codes from April 1 this year in one go. The ministry is in the final leg of amalgamating 44 central labour laws into four broad codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and OSH. The ministry wants to implement all four codes in one go.


Living Paycheck to Paycheck? 7 Tips for Avoiding Extra Fees

Living paycheck to paycheck is exhausting. As soon as your paycheck comes in, you have to spend it all on necessities like rent, utilities, insurance, and paying off debt. There’s usually little, if anything, left for savings or recreational activities.


Then, something even worse happens: you’re hit with a fee. You might have missed a payment deadline, overdrawn your account, lost your credit card, or encountered a different situation that decided your wallet needed another gut-punch. It might only sound like $12, the cost of a cheap meal out, but it’s $12 you don’t have and desperately need for something else.

You might feel dread toward these impending fees when you pay a bill, or they come at you from out of nowhere. If you live paycheck to paycheck and want to make sure as much of your hard-earned money goes where it should, follow these seven tips for avoiding unnecessary fees.

Avoid Banks that Charge Maintenance Fees

Bank “maintenance fees” are particularly sinister. Financial institutions charge them if you don’t meet specific requirements, such as holding a minimum balance in your account ($1,500 in the case of many big banks) or making frequent direct deposits over a specified amount. You might not even be aware of them unless you check your billing statement.

It’s not fair that banks charge you money for not having enough money. Maintenance fees are often monthly and can accumulate over time — Americans paid $3.5 billion in maintenance fees in 2017. These fees perpetuate the poverty cycle because if you live paycheck to paycheck or have irregular income (like freelancers), of course you don’t have $1,500 in your account at all times.

Don’t use banks that charge maintenance fees. Many big banks do, but examples of financial institutions that don’t include Ally Bank, Capital One Bank 360, and FNBO Direct.

Deposit Money the Long Way

Deposit money into your account the long way, if possible. This process means being patient when getting paid, especially if you’re a contractor or freelancer that relies on services like PayPal.

PayPal offers multiple bank transfer options, including Standard Transfer and Instant Transfer. The former is free and takes one to three business days, but the latter costs 1% of the transaction up to $10. Opt for the Instant Transfer option when you can, or use mobile deposit with a physical check.

Use Apps that Don’t Charge Minimum Fees

However, the pay cycle is notorious for delays that make living paycheck to paycheck even more difficult. It’s entirely possible that you need your money now, not later — but what can you do about it? You can’t exactly force direct deposit to go faster.

One solution is to use financial apps that allow you to access your paycheck without having to wait weeks for it. One such app is Earnin, which you can use to access up to $100 of your paycheck per day, up to $500 per pay period. The app deducts the amount you took out on payday without mandatory fees or interest. Earnin is community-driven, so you can pay however much you think is fair as a thank you for its service.

Set Up Auto Pay

Are late fees the bane of your existence because you regularly forget to pay a bill on time? Apps like Earnin can help you avoid late fees, but consider setting up auto-pay on your credit card and other if you can afford to do so. This way, you never have to remember payment deadlines; your account will pay what you owe automatically.

Sign Up for Low-Balance Alerts

If you cannot risk auto-pay because you’re worried about insufficient funds, then sign up for low-balance alerts with an app or through your bank. Low-balance alerts will notify you when your account balance has dipped below a certain number — possibly of your choosing, depending on the service — so that you know when it’s time to replenish your account with additional funds or to watch your budget before bills are due.

These alerts aren’t perfect because banks can be slow to share information with external apps. However, they can help avoid bank overdraft fees, which financial institutions charge if you opt-in to its overdraft protection service. While the ability to overdraw your checking account and complete transactions regardless of funds seems convenient, there are other pros and cons to consider (you can also open a checking account with no overdraft fees).

Use Your Bank’s ATMs

ATM fees are one of the most-hated fees in the U.S. You incur these fees if you want to access your money from a machine that’s not in your bank or credit union’s network.

Only use ATMs within your financial institution’s network when possible. If none are around, you can obtain cash at a supermarket that offers cash back options with a small purchase (which sounds like a fee in itself, so only buy something you need!).

Opt-Out of Paper Communications

Your bank is going to communicate with you, and you would be wise to pay attention. Unfortunately, many banks default to mailing paper communications instead of using digital means — and then charge you for it. Log into your online account or call your bank’s customer service line to opt-out of paper notifications and save yourself some cash.

Unnecessary fees make it extra challenging for people living paycheck to paycheck to save money. If you want to lose as little of your money as possible to predatory financial institutions, research what fees your bank (or prospective bank) charges and which they are most likely to make you pay, depending on your situation.

(This article originally appeared on Earnin.)

As Biden Reopens ACA Enrollment, Are You Eligible To Sign Up Or Switch Health Plans?

For people who’ve been without health insurance during the pandemic, relief is in sight.

In January, President Biden signed an executive order to open up the federal health insurance marketplace for three months starting Monday so uninsured people can buy a plan and those who want to change their marketplace coverage can do so.

Consumer advocates applauded the directive. Since 2016, the number of Americans without health insurance has been on the rise, reaching 30 million in 2019. The economic upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus has made a bad situation worse, throwing millions off their insurance plans.


Biden’s move is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s approach. As COVID-19 took hold last spring and the economy imploded, health experts pleaded with the Trump administration to open up the federal marketplace so people could buy insurance to protect themselves during the worst public health emergency in a century. The administration declined, noting that people who suddenly found themselves without coverage because they lost their jobs were able to sign up on the marketplace under ordinary rules. They also cited concerns that sick people who had resisted buying insurance before would buy coverage and drive up premiums.

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The Biden administration is promising to spend $50 million on outreach and education to get the word out about the new special enrollment period. That’s critical, experts say. Though the number of people signing up for Affordable Care Act plans has generally remained robust, the number of new consumers enrolling in the federal marketplace has dropped every year since 2016, according to KFF, corresponding to funding cuts in marketing and outreach. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

“There are a lot of uninsured people who even before COVID were eligible for either hefty marketplace subsidies or for Medicaid and not aware of it,” says Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. A marketing blitz can reach a broad swath of people and hopefully draw them in, regardless of whether they’re uninsured because of COVID or not, she says.

Here are answers to questions about the new enrollment option.

Q: When can consumers sign up, and in which states?

The sign-up window will be open for three months, from Monday through May 15. Uninsured residents of any of the 36 states that use the federal healthcare.gov platform can look for plans during that time and enroll.

Nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia that operate their own marketplaces are establishing special enrollment periods similar to the new federal one, though they may have somewhat different time frames or eligibility rules. In Massachusetts, for example, the sign-up window remains open until May 23, while in Connecticut, it closes March 15. Meanwhile, Colorado has reopened enrollment in its marketplace for residents who lack insurance, but most people already enrolled in one of the state’s marketplace plans won’t be allowed to switch to a different plan until the regular open enrollment period in the fall.

At this point, only Idaho has not announced plans to reopen its marketplace for enrollment, says Corlette. It may yet do so, however.

Q: Can people who lost their jobs and health insurance many months ago sign up during the new enrollment period?

Yes. The enrollment window for people in states that use the federal marketplace is open to anyone who is uninsured and would normally be eligible to buy coverage on the exchange (people who are serving prison or jail terms and those who are in the country without legal permission aren’t allowed to enroll).

People with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level (about $51,500 for one person or $106,000 for a family of four) are eligible for premium tax credits that may substantially reduce their costs

Typically, people can buy a marketplace plan only during the annual open enrollment period in the fall or if a major life event gives them another opportunity to sign up, in what’s called a special enrollment period. Losing job-based health coverage is one event that creates a special sign-up opportunity; so is getting married or having a baby. But usually people must sign up with the marketplace within 60 days of the event.

With the new special enrollment period, how long someone has been uninsured isn’t relevant, nor do people have to provide documentation that they’ve lost job-based coverage.

“The message is quite simple: Come and apply,” says Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: What about people who are already enrolled in a marketplace plan? Can they switch their coverage during this new enrollment period?

Yes, as long as their coverage is through the federal marketplace. If, for example, someone is enrolled in a gold plan now on HealthCare.gov, but wants to switch to a cheaper bronze plan with a higher deductible, that’s allowed. As mentioned above, however, some state-operated marketplaces may not make that option available, so check your state’s website. You can find a list of the websites for state exchanges here.


Q: Many people have lost significant income during the pandemic. How do they decide whether a marketplace plan with premium subsidies is a better buy for them than Medicaid?

They don’t have to decide. During the application process, the marketplace asks people for income information. If their annual income is below the Medicaid threshold (for many adults in most states, that’s 138% of the federal poverty level –which works out to be about $18,000 for an individual), they will be directed to the state’s Medicaid program for coverage. If people are eligible for Medicaid, they can’t get subsidized coverage on an ACA exchange.


People can sign up for Medicaid anytime; there’s no need to wait for an annual or special enrollment period.

Those already enrolled in a marketplace plan whose income changes should go back into the marketplace and update their income information as soon as possible. They may be eligible for larger premium subsidies for their marketplace plan or, if their income has dropped significantly, newly eligible for Medicaid. (Likewise, if their income has increased and they don’t adjust their marketplace income estimates, they could be on the hook for overpayments of their subsidies when they file their taxes.)

Q: What about people who signed up under the federal COBRA law to continue their employer coverage after losing their job? Can they drop it and sign up for a marketplace plan?

Yes, people in federal marketplace states can take that step, health experts say. Under COBRA, people can be required to pay the full amount of the premium plus a 2% administrative fee. Marketplace coverage is almost certainly cheaper.

Normally, if people have COBRA coverage and they drop it midyear, they can’t sign up for a marketplace plan until the annual fall open enrollment period. But this special enrollment period will give people that option.

(Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit, editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente)


Elon Musk, The World’s Richest Man, Gets A Whole Lot Richer

For a CEO who receives no salary, Elon Musk’s 2020 payday reached sky-high levels. He received four grants to buy 8.4 million Tesla shares in 2020. After paying the exercise price, those blocks of stock options were each worth $6.2 billion at Wednesday’s closing price. The combined $24.8 billion value of those options alone is more than Musk was worth a year ago when Forbes calculated its billionaire’s list, when he was ranked as the world’s 31st richest person.

2021 and 2022 could be nearly as lucrative for him.

The company’s annual financial filing this week disclosed that Musk will probably receive three additional options grants this year, each as large and as lucrative as those he received in 2020.

At current values, those three options tranches would be worth $18.6 billion.

Analysts are now forecasting that Tesla’s 2022 financial results will likewise reach heights that would bring Musk three additional blocks of options. Tesla could hit one of those profit targets in 2021, which would mean Musk could match the four tranches of options he received last year.


Few investors are complaining about Musk’s pay.

The stock’s 743% rise in 2020 made it the stock market’s biggest winner, as well as one of the most valuable companies in the world. That has quieted most of the criticism he might have faced.

“The cachet of Tesla is Musk,” said Daniel Ives, tech analyst for Wedbush Securities. “The reason investors have not batted an eyelash is that due to Musk’s strategic direction, Tesla is on top of the EV [electric vehicles] mountain going to the golden age of EVs. And he’s put Tesla on the cusp of being a trillion-dollar market cap company.”

The rise in Tesla’s stock price, and his options to buy new shares, has made Musk the richest person on the planet, according to Bloomberg, surpassing Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos.

Unlike Musk, Bezos doesn’t receive stock options from Amazon, and he collected relatively modest salary of $81,840 in 2019, plus security services valued at $1.6 million a year. But rather than benefit from stock options or grants as do most CEOs, he benefits primarily from the rise of his Amazon shares.

Musk similarly owns 170 million Tesla shares outright, worth about $137.2 billion, in addition to those existing shares he has options to buy new ones. In fact, the nearly $123 billion gain in 2020 in the value of shares Musk already owns dwarfs the value of the additional options he received.

Musk, who bought a controlling stake in Tesla in 2004 when it was an upstart private company years from building its first car, takes no salary. Before his current lucrative compensation package he had an earlier version that paid him with options to buy 22.9 million split-adjusted Tesla shares for a price of $6.24 each. Those options are worth $18.3 billion today.

The options he received last year came from a second compensation package that was overwhelmingly approved by Tesla shareholders in 2018. It allows him to receive options to buy as many as 101 million split-adjusted shares of stock for $70 each. Those options can come in 12 separate, equally sized tranches.

If Tesla’s share price keeps climbing, so will the value of the options. In late May, when Tesla confirmed Musk received the first block of options for 2020, they were valued at “only” $770 million after the exercise price. Today they’re worth $6.2 billion.

Musk has not exercised any of his options. Executives typically exercise them when they are due to expire, or to free up cash. Musk has never sold Tesla shares.

Those options come at a cost to Tesla, although it’s a non-cash expense.

Stock-based compensation accounted for a $1.7 billion hit to Tesla’s bottom line last year. The company doesn’t break out how much of that was Musk’s or how much was stock for its other 70,750 employees.

The company makes stock widely available to its employees. Its filing said that “our compensation philosophy for all of our personnel reflects our startup origins, with an emphasis on equity-based awards.”

But the same filing says that the company does not match employees’ contributions to its 401(k) plans, in cash or in company stock.

When Musk was recently asked on Twitter about the lack of company match into 401(k) plans in the face of his own compensation package, he responded, “Everyone at Tesla receives stock. My comp is all stock/options, which I do not take off the table. That’s what you’re missing.”

Tesla said that Musk got so many options, so much sooner than expected, that it caused the spike in stock-based compensation expense. In 2019, stock-based compensation was about $900 million.

Musk received no options in 2019, but some of that $900 million was an expense Tesla booked because it believed that Musk would receive options in early 2020.

While the stock-based compensation doesn’t drain cash from Tesla’s coffers, it does change the company’s profit picture.

The company reported positive net income for the first time in 2020, earning $721 million. Critics point out that its profit was far less than the $1.6 billion Tesla received from the sale of regulatory credits to other automakers. They claim the company actually lost money on car sales, and it can’t depend on the revenue from the sale of those credits in the long term.

Without the $1.7 billion in stock based compensation, Tesla’s net income would exceed the gains from the sale of those regulatory credits. And Telsa critics would not have been able to claim it lost money selling cars.

Oil Prices Climb Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels

The price of oil has recovered to its pre-pandemic levels having hit an all-time low last year. While demand for oil is still lower than normal, there are hopes of a speedier than expected economic recovery as vaccines are rolled out.

Oil prices are often seen as a barometer for economic activity, still struggling with the virus downturn. “Black gold” has now reached $60 a barrel having risen more than 50% in the last few months.

Brent crude, the major benchmark for oil, has seen strong growth recently. Futures contracts, which are based on the price of future delivery, have jumped 59% since November.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, last week rose above $55 a barrel for the first time in over a year.

“The biggest driver for the latest surge in prices seen through last week was a sharp upturn in expectations for economic and oil demand recovery on signs that the coronavirus may finally be in retreat,” Vandana Hari, founder of Singapore-based oil markets data firm Vanda Insights told the BBC.

Demand has been rising in parts of the world, particularly Asia. “We are quite optimistic about what it is that we are seeing in China,” Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden said last week.

Other factors have also played their part to push up prices such as efforts by oil-producing nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, to limit output.

Since agreeing to the cut in production last April, producers have held back a cumulative 2.1 billion barrels of oil, leading to decreasing stockpiles.

The coronavirus crisis has been devastating for the petroleum industry, and last year prices slumped below zero with more than one billion surplus barrels.

Demand for fuel from airlines has seen the most dramatic fall as travel curbs remain in place. Air passenger traffic is 70% below year-ago levels, according to the International Air Transport Association.

But demand has picked up in other areas, thanks in part to the shift to working and consuming more from home.

As consumers are buying more online, this has spurred demand for fuel to power delivery trucks and vans, along with cargo ships and and freight trains.

The e-commerce boom has also caused a spike for plastic packaging, which is made using oil products.

However, oil demand is still lower than pre-pandemic levels and a slow economic recovery would delay a full rebound in world energy demand for years to come, the International Energy Agency warned last month.

“There could be more setbacks in the spread of the virus or the vaccinations, causing a pullback in prices, though short of another crisis,” added Ms Hari.

(Picture: Business Focus)

Who Will Replace Jeff Bezos After He Steps Down As Amazon Chief Executive

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he will step down as chief executive of the e-commerce giant that he started in his garage nearly 30 years ago. He will become executive chairman, a move he said would give him “time and energy” to focus on his other ventures.

Mr Bezos, who has a fortune of almost $200bn, will be replaced by Andy Jassy, who currently leads Amazon’s cloud computing business. The change will take place in the second half of 2021, the company said.

“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,” Mr Bezos said in a letter to Amazon staff on Tuesday.

“As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have,” he added.

Mr Bezos, 57, has led Amazon since its start as an online bookshop in 1994. The firm now employs 1.3 million people globally and has its hand in everything from package delivery and streaming video to cloud services and advertising.

He’s amassed a fortune of $196.2bn, according to Forbes’ list of billionaires., making him the world’s richest man. However, Bloomberg’s billionaire index puts Tesla boss Elon Musk just ahead of him.

Amazon saw its already explosive growth skyrocket last year, as the pandemic prompted a surge in online shopping. The firm reported $386bn (£283bn) in sales in 2020, up 38% from 2019. Profits almost doubled, rising to $21.3bn.

In announcing the plans, Mr Bezos said he would continue to focus on new products and initiatives. “When you look at our financial results, what you’re actually seeing are the long-run cumulative results of invention,” he said. “Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition.”

The shake-up comes as Mr Bezos has developed an increasingly public profile.  He has endured a public divorce, become a target for labour and inequality activists, and poured his wealth into other businesses, such as space exploration firm Blue Origin and the Washington Post newspaper.

‘Not leaving’

Amazon also faces increasing scrutiny from regulators, who have questioned its monopoly power. And its dominance in cloud computing is being increasingly challenged by other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Alphabet, parent company of Google and YouTube.

Mr Bezos’s decision to hand over the day-to-day operation of the company came as a surprise. But investors appeared unfazed, with little change in the firm’s share price in after-hours trade.

In a call with analysts to discuss the firm’s financial results, Amazon chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky said: “Jeff is not leaving, he is getting a new job… The board is super active and important in Amazon’s success story.”

Mr Jassy, a Harvard graduate, has been with Amazon since 1997 and helped develop Amazon Web Services, which has long been seen as the profit engine of the company.

The division provides cloud computing and storage for governments and companies including McDonald’s and Netflix.

“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,” Mr Bezos said.

Sophie Lund-Yates, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said it was “no accident” that Amazon is tapping the head of the cloud business to lead the company.

This is a real surprise. But you have to remember that Jeff Bezos himself is worth nearly $200bn.

And when you’re that rich imagine what you can do. Jeff Bezos has some pretty lofty ambitions outside of Amazon.

His Blue Origin company wants to “build a road to space”. He’s also sunk $10bn into Earth Fund, designed to help combat the effects of climate change.

Oh, and he also owns the Washington Post.

How will Amazon cope? Well, importantly, he’s not leaving. As executive chair and founder he’ll still exercise huge power over the company.  However, stepping back will inevitably mean less influence.

His replacement – Andy Jassy – has been running Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s booming cloud business division.  His rise to the top underscores how important this business has become to Amazon.

(Picture: Geek Wire)

Democrats Want To Give $3,000 Child Benefit As Part Of Biden Relief Package

House Democratic leaders planned to unveil legislation that would give millions of families at least $3,000 per child, advancing a key provision in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal, who is leading the crafting of the legislation for the stimulus package, will introduce the enhanced Child Tax Credit bill, according to a committee spokesperson.

“The pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it’s devastating. We are making the Child Tax Credit more generous, more accessible, and by paying it out monthly, this money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table,” Neal said in a statement provided to CNN.

The legislation would provide $3,600 per child under the age of six and $3,000 per child age six through 17 for a single year. The full benefit is available to single parents earning up to $75,000 annually and for couples earning up to $150,000. Payments would phase out after those thresholds.

Families can receive the Child Tax Credit payments on a monthly basis, which advocates say will make it easier to pay their obligations compared to getting a lump sum at tax time. If this particular legislation is passed by Congress, the payments would begin in July for one year.

Another big change: The credit would become fully refundable for the year. Some 27 million children currently live in low-income families who receive a partial or no tax credit because they earn too little, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The current Child Tax Credit provides up to $2,000 per child under the age of 17. The credit phases out for single parents with a modified adjusted gross income over $200,000, and $400,000 for married couples. Families receive a single payment.

Some 90% of families with children will receive an average credit of $2,380 in 2020, according to a non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimate. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Suzan DelBene of Washington and Ritchie Torres of New York are also set to introduce on Monday standalone legislation that would continue the expanded benefit permanently.

Congress should pass the enhancement permanently while there’s a chance, DeLauro, who has been working on bolstering the child tax credit since 2003, said in a statement. “We cannot stop here. We must use this moment to pass the American Family Act and permanently expand and improve the child tax credit. One year is not enough for the children and families battling not just the coronavirus, but poverty, too,” the Connecticut Democrat said in the statement.

Some Republicans also support increasing the Child Tax Credit. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney last week unveiled a proposal to provide a monthly cash benefit of $350 for each young child ($4,200 annually) and $250 for each school-aged child ($3,000 annually).

However, his measure would also eliminate several existing government assistance programs — including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — and tax provisions, including the deduction for state and local taxes.

Romney said his plan would lift nearly 3 million children out of poverty, while not adding to the federal deficit. It would cost about $66 billion, including accompanying changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Biden’s proposal to give relief to low-income families

Biden’s relief package, which he unveiled last month, called for augmenting the Child Tax Credit for one year to help fight against poverty.

The President’s proposal also includes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to more low-income workers, along with $1,400 stimulus checks and increased unemployment, nutrition and housing aid, among other measures.

“All told, the American Rescue Plan would lift 12 million Americans out of poverty and cut child poverty in half. That’s 5 million children lifted out of poverty,” Biden said last month before signing two executive orders that would augment nutrition assistance and strengthen federal worker protections.

Biden also noted that the proposal would reduce poverty among Black families by one third and among Hispanic households by almost 40%. A one-year expansion would cost about $120 billion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan fiscal watchdog.

(Picture: Chicago Tribune)

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