The First Forum is an initiative that focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu of the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast-changing world.
In the Sixty Second Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Science and Technology
3. Business
4. Economics
5. Finance

(By Mehak Gupta, Nikunj Gulati, and Kanika Meena)

Politics

Trump tells Americans to try to vote twice during the election

US President Donald Trump has asked his supporters to try to vote twice on November 3. He asked Americans to first vote by mail and then go to the polling station on election day to check whether their ballot was counted and if not, vote again. “You are now assured that your precious vote has been counted”, Trump tweeted. And Twitter hid the Trump tweets added a “public interest notice” citing its rules and civic and election integrity.
Read MoreThe tweets violated the rules “specifically for encouraging people to engage in behaviour that could undermine the integrity of their individual vote” according to a Twitter spokesperson Nick Pacilio. Twitter has limited the reach of double vote tweets and restricted its likes, reply and retweets without comments. Trump’s latest attack on vote-by-mail also crossed a line for Facebook.

Kerala Health Minister Tops World Top Thinker list overtakes New Zealand PM
British magazine Prospect has named Kerala health minister K. K Shailaja as the ‘top thinker 2020’ in the world. Prospect magazine has selected ‘top 50 thinkers 2020’ including philosophers, intellectuals, artists, scientists and writers through voting by the readers and based on the opinion of the panel of experts and editors. Interestingly, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is ranked No.2 on the list. After naming her as a ‘Top Thinker’, the British magazine said that KK Shailaja was the “right woman in the right place.’ Read More Prospect magazine said in a statement, ‘So deft was her handling of a 2018 outbreak of the deadly Nipah disease that it was commemorated in a film, Virus. In 2020, she was the right woman in the right place. When Covid-19 was still ‘a China story’ in January, she not only accurately foresaw its inevitable arrival but also fully grasped the implications.’

Donald Trump drags India into US electoral minefield
US President Donald Trump said that he believes the Indian-American community would vote for him in the upcoming presidential elections by highlighting the great relationship with India. “We have great support from India. We have great support from Prime Minister Modi. I would think that the Indian (American) people would be voting for Trump,” the president told reporters at a White House news conference. Read More The president said that he has a very good relationship with Modi. “Prime Minister Modi is a friend of mine and he’s doing a very good job. Nothing easy, but he’s done a very good job,” he said as he recollected his historic address at the ‘Howdy Mody’ event in Houston last September.

Covid-19 testing our resilience, health system and economy: PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the coronavirus pandemic is testing “our resilience, health system and economic system” at the United States – India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). He added that the current situation demands fresh mindsets where the approach to development is human-centric.  The five-day-long summit which began on August 31 is based on the theme “US-India Navigating New Challenges”.Read More The USISPF is a non-profit organisation that works for the partnership between India and the US. the event’s theme covers various subjects such as India’s potential in becoming a global manufacturing hub, opportunities in India’s gas market, ease of doing business to attract FDI in India, common and challenges in tech space, Indo-Pacific economic issues, innovation in public health and others.

Trump called Marines killed in WW1 ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’
US President Donald Trump referred to US Marines buried in a WW1 cemetery in France as “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed in action, the Atlantic Magazine reported. “In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, ‘Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,'” the article said.  Read MoreTrump and his team slammed the report. Joe Biden, Trump’s rival in the November 3 election, said in a statement that if the article’s allegations are true, “then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States. “If I have the honour of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honour their sacrifice — always,” Biden said. 

Science and Technology

Has Earth’s oxygen rusted the Moon for billions of years?
Iron is highly reactive with oxygen – forming reddish rust commonly seen on Earth. The lunar surface and interior, however, are virtually devoid of oxygen, so pristine metallic iron is prevalent on the Moon and highly oxidized iron has not been confirmed in samples returned from the Apollo missions. In addition, hydrogen in solar wind blasts the lunar surface, which acts in opposition to oxidation. So, the presence of highly oxidized iron-bearing minerals, such as hematite, on the Moon is an unexpected discovery. Read MoreThe team found the locations where hematite is present are strongly correlated with water content at high latitude Li and others found previously and are more concentrated on the nearside, which always faces the Earth. The research team hopes the NASA’s ARTEMIS missions can return hematite samples from the polar regions. The chemical signatures of those samples can confirm their hypothesis whether the lunar hematite is oxidized by Earth’s oxygen and may help reveal the evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere in the past billions of years.

Splitting water molecules for a renewable energy future
One proposed paradigm for shifting away from fossil fuels is the hydrogen economy, in which hydrogen gas powers society’s electrical needs. To mass-produce hydrogen gas, some scientists are studying the process of splitting water — two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom — which would result in hydrogen fuel and breathable oxygen gas. The core idea of this study goes back to a subject in general chemistry classes: catalysts. Read MoreThese substances increase the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the chemical process. One way a catalyst increases the reaction rate is by decreasing the amount of energy needed for the reaction to commence. Even moving one electron from a stable atom can be energy-intensive, but this reaction requires the transfer of four to oxidize oxygen to produce oxygen gas.

Plant protein discovery could reduce the need for fertilizer
Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water, a finding which could improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most abundant organic polymers on earth. This study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition, a finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need. Read MoreSuch improvements in agricultural and horticultural crops could also potentially benefit subsistence farmers with limited access to inorganic fertilizers which include nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, and also sulphur and magnesium.

Researchers identify nanobody that may prevent COVID-19 infection
Researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have identified a small neutralizing antibody, a so-called nanobody, that has the capacity to block SARS-CoV-2 from entering human cells. The researchers believe this nanobody has the potential to be developed as an antiviral treatment against COVID-19. The search for effective nanobodies — which are fragments of antibodies that occur naturally in camelids and can be adapted for humans — began in February when an alpaca was injected with the new coronavirus’ spike protein, which is used to enter our cells. After 60 days, blood samples from the alpaca showed a strong immune response against the spike protein. Read MoreNext, the researchers cloned, enriched, and analyzed nanobody sequences from the alpaca’s B cells, a type of white blood cell, to determine which nanobodies were best suited for further evaluation. They identified one, Ty1, that efficiently neutralizes the virus by attaching itself to the part of the spike protein that binds to the receptor ACE2, which is used by SARS-CoV-2 to infect cells. This blocks the virus from slipping into the cells and thus prevents infection.

Wool-like material can remember and change shape
Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a biocompatible material that can be 3D-printed into any shape and pre-programmed with reversible shape memory. The material is made using keratin, a fibrous protein found in hair, nails, and shells. The researchers extracted the keratin from leftover Agora wool used in textile manufacturing. A single chain of keratin is arranged into a spring-like structure known as alpha-helix. Read MoreTwo of these chains twist together to form a structure known as a coiled coil. Many of these coiled coils are assembled into protofilaments and eventually large fibers. When a fiber is stretched or exposed to a particular stimulus, the spring-like structures uncoil, and the bonds realign to form stable beta-sheets. The fiber remains in that position until it is triggered to coil back into its original shape. The researchers 3D-printed keratin sheets in a variety of shapes. Once the memory was set, the sheet could be re-programmed and moulded into new shapes. This research could help in reducing waste in the fashion industry, one of the biggest polluters.

Business

Strides Pharma gets US FDA nod for generic anti-inflammatory drug
Drug firm Strides Pharma Science on Thursday said it has received approval from the US health regulator for generic Prednisone tablets used as an anti-inflammatory medication. Strides Pharma Global Pte Ltd, Singapore, the company’s step-down wholly-owned subsidiary, has received approval for Prednisone tablets USP in the strength of 1 mg from the United States Food & Drug Administration (USFDA), Strides Pharma Science said in a filing to the BSE. Read MoreThe product is a generic version of Schering Corporation’s Meticorten tablets in the same strength, it added. The product will be manufactured at the company’s facility at Bengaluru and will be marketed by Strides Pharma Inc in the US market, the filing said.

Facebook responds to Congress, says it is non-partisan, and denounces hate
Amid a raging controversy over Facebook’s alleged political bias and interference in India’s democratic process, the social media giant has told the Congress that it is non-partisan, denounces hate and bigotry in all forms, and strives to ensure that its platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely. Responding to concerns raised by the opposition Congress, Facebook’s Public Policy, Trust, and Safety Director Neil Potts have said that it has taken the party’s allegation of bias very seriously and will ensure that it remains non-partisan and is committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity. Read MoreThe Congress accused Facebook of interfering in India’s democratic process and social harmony and being soft on members of the ruling BJP on applying its hate-speech rules. The Congress had written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg following reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Time magazine about the conduct of Facebook and WhatsApp India’s leadership team, alleging bias and proximity with the ruling BJP.

RBL Bank launches a cardless cash withdrawal facility through ATMs
RBL Bank on Thursday said it has launched a cardless cash withdrawal facility from ATMs, leveraging the Instant Money Transfer (IMT) system. The private sector lender said it has tied-up with Empays Payment Systems, a global financial technology provider, to offer this service. RBL Bank customers can withdraw cash without their debit cards from 389 IMT-enabled automated teller machines (ATMs) of the bank or more than 40,000 other bank ATMs across the country, it said in a release.Read More To avail the service a customer has to log into RBL Bank’s MoBank app to locate an ATM that supports the IMT function and initiate cash withdrawal by either using his or her mobile number linked to the account or by following a few easy steps on the app. The customer selects the IMT button on the mobile app, gets a code, and uses it to withdraw money from the ATM.

Silver Lake in talks to take $1 billion stakes in Reliance Retail
Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners is in talks to invest $1 billion in the retail arm of India’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RELI.NS), the Financial Times reported on Thursday, citing people with direct knowledge of the matter. The investment, which would value Reliance Retail at about $57 billion, comes as the company is aiming to sell about 10% in new shares, the report added. Silver Lake declined to comment on the report, while Reliance could not immediately be reached outside of normal business hours.Read More The company has raised more than $20 billion from global investors including Facebook Inc (FB.O) by selling stakes in its Jio Platforms digital business and has said it aims to attract investors to Reliance Retail over the next few quarters. In late August, Reliance said it would acquire the retail and logistics businesses of India’s Future Group in a deal valued at $3.38 billion, including debt.

Airlines are removing seats to make space for gadgets and seafood
Cargo, one of the least glamorous aspects of flying, is proving a rare ray of light for airlines amid the coronavirus gloom. The grounding of passenger planes at a time of increased demand for everything from medical supplies to iPhones has boosted freight rates. With much of the world’s population house-bound and shopping online instead of hitting the malls, analysts see no let-up in demand, particularly as the peak year-end holiday season approaches. Read MoreThe sort of goods moving along this global conveyor belt 30,000 feet in the sky also track the pandemic’s unfurling. Masks and gloves have given way to semiconductor chips and PC parts as consumers set up work-from-home arrangements. Fresh produce is also as big as people venture out less. Ultimately, once a vaccine is found, airlines will be used to disperse billions of vials quickly and in a temperature-controlled environment. 

Economics

GDP Plunges by Record 23.9% in Q1 as India Enters Recession
India’s April-June quarter GDP contracted by a massive 23.9% year-on-year (YoY), the first GDP contraction in more than 40 years. As per the National Statistical Office (NSO), gross value added (GVA) came in at -22.8%. A contraction in India’s GDP was largely expected by economists, however the majority had predicted a shrinkage no greater than 20 per cent. This is the sharpest contraction since the nation started publishing quarterly figures in 1996 and is worse than any of the G20 nations. Read More A drop of Rs 5,31,803 crore in private consumption or 27% has been the key driver behind India’s economic contraction. The distress was most acute in the mining (-23%), construction (-50%), trade, hospitality, and other services (47%) and manufacturing (-39%) sectors. However, it should be noted that the full impact of the lockdown will not be reflected fully in the January-March quarter as the shutdown was announced on March 25. India’s GDP likely to contract 15-25% in June quarter.

Japan offers sops to companies shifting base from China
In a bid to diversify its supply chains, the Japanese government will give subsidies to its manufacturers to shift base out of China and move to India or Bangladesh. Japanese manufacturers that move production away from China and into ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries will be given sops under the expansion of a state-backed ‘China exit’ subsidy program. By expanding the scope of the subsidy programme, Japan aims to reduce dependence on China as the supply chains were severed during the coronavirus lockdown. Japan is moving to build a system which is able to provide a stable supply of medical materials and electronic components even in an emergency. Read MoreThe government has allocated 23.5 billion yen in 2020 supplemental budget for the subsidy to encourage companies to disperse their manufacturing sites across ASEAN region. In the first round of application, the Japanese government approved 30 manufacturing projects, including Hoya’s manufacturing of electronic components project in Vietnam and Laos, and provided subsidies of 10 billion yen.

India open to raising duties on auto imports to boost local production
Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has said that the government is open to raising duties on auto imports in a phased manner in a bid to boost domestic production, as the country’s car industry set a target to halve imports of components within five years. raising duties was “not a bad idea” to discourage automakers from importing car kits, comprised of partially or completely knocked down vehicles, and using India only as an assembly base to get market share there. Read MoreThe focus will be to reduce imports of electronic auto components, which are sourced mainly from China and other Asian countries, and steel, which together account for around $5 billion of total auto parts imports, Pawan Goenka, managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra said. Modi government wants companies to reduce imports, increase domestic production and play a bigger role in the global supply chain to make the country more self-reliant.

Xi promises more market opening at first trade fair after COVID-19
President Xi Jinping pledged to open China’s service industries wider to foreign competitors as its first in-person trade fair since the coronavirus outbreak opened under intensive anti-disease controls. While Xi has not given any details but Chinese leaders are emphasizing development of tourism, retailing and other services. These are part of a campaign to nurture economic growth driven by consumer spending instead of exports and investment. Read MoreThe coronavirus “cannot stop the development of service trade, nor can it stop our confidence and action to work together,” Xi said. China became the first economy to return to growth with a 3.2% expansion over a year earlier in the three months ending in June, rebounding from the previous quarter’s 6.8% contraction.

U.S. Budget Deficit to hit $3.3 trillion, Exceeding Size of Economy in 2021
The federal budget deficit is projected to hit a record $3.3 trillion as huge government expenditures to fight the coronavirus and to prop up the economy have added more than $2 trillion to the federal ledger, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) said. Debt held by the public will reach $21.9 trillion in the fiscal year ending September 2021, or the equivalent to 104.4% of gross domestic product, up from 98.2% in the current year, the CBO said.Read More As federal debt will exceed annual gross domestic product next year that would put the US where it was in the aftermath of World War II, when accumulated debt exceeded the size of the economy. The $3.3 trillion figure released is more than triple the 2019 shortfall and more than double the levels experienced after the market meltdown and Great Recession of 2008-09.

Finance

Foreign investors flock to Indian stock market despite GDP contraction
India’s contraction of the economy is not preventing foreign investors from pouring money into the country’s stocks with the bet on a recovery. International buyers invested a net $ 6 billion in stocks of Asia’s third-largest economy in August, the highest number since March of last year. That’s because every other market in the region, except China, suffered net pullbacks during the month.Read More Foreigners have remained net buyers even after data showed India’s economy shrank by a record of 23.9% in the June quarter, putting in a net $231 million in the first three days of September. “As long as the Covid-19 cases persist, localized lockdowns are likely to hamper economic recovery,” said Kristy Fong, senior director of investments for Asian equities at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire cuts stake in Wells Fargo by 43%
Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway has slashed its stake in Wells Fargo by 43% by selling over 100 million shares, the company said. It now holds a 3.3% stake or 136 million shares in the bank which are worth around $3.4 billion. Berkshire had already cut its stake in Wells Fargo by 25% in the second quarter.Read More The bank also ranked among Berkshire’s five most valuable holdings earlier just a few months ago. Berkshire sold a bunch of financial stocks last quarter. It slashed its JPMorgan stake by more than 60%, exited its Goldman Sachs position, and sold shares of BNY Mellon, PNC Financial, US Bancorp, Visa, and Mastercard, among others. 

Trader accidentally sells off a Chinese company’s founder shares 
Li Dongsheng, the Founder and Chairman of Chinese electronics company TCL. Technology Group said that a trader accidentally sold 50 lakh shares from his account after typing the wrong stock code. I bought back the shares for 35.8 million yuan ($5.2 million) less than two hours after the trader sold them for 35.9 million yuan, the firm said. He will hand over profits from the trade to the company, the statement added. Read MoreHe also issued an apology for the trade on his personal Weibo account and said he personally made the decision to buy back the stock. Li said he would donate $44,000 back to the company, which makes LCD panels for television screens.TCL’s shares have surged in recent months. The stock is up 50% since the start of the year and up 27% in the past month alone.

Vodafone Idea Board approves fundraising plan
Vodafone Idea board has approved a fundraising plan of up to Rs.25,000 crore by way of equity share sale and debt, the company said. The crucial decision came days after the Supreme Court directed telecom operators to pay 10 per cent of total adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues this year, and rest of the payments in 10 instalments, starting next fiscal year. Read MoreThe fund-raising will throw a lifeline to cash-strapped VIL, which has suffered massive losses, as it has been losing subscribers and average revenue per user (ARPU), and faces outstanding AGR dues of about Rs 50,000 crore. The proposal will be taken up for consideration at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) on September 30, the company said. 

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