Welcome to the Endeavor Editors’ Current Affairs Choicest Blog series. Get a  weekly roundup – on news from business, economy, markets, policy, and more. A quick capsule format news summary and update to keep you abreast with all the latest current affairs.

 Current Affairs July 2021 – Week 3

1) International News and Global Economy

Fed’s Powell concedes anxiety about higher inflation but resists policy shift plans 

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recent inflation was uncomfortably above the levels the central bank seeks, concluding two days of testimony in which he sounded somewhat less confident about the economic outlook—and the Fed’s policy path—than earlier this year. More broad-based price pressures or a weak rebound in the workforce could lead the Fed to conclude it needs to reverse the easy money policies it deployed during the pandemic more rapidly than officials expected a few months ago. Mr. Powell said pandemic-related bottlenecks and other supply constraints for a small group of goods and services have led to rapid price increases. He said it would be an error to overreact to inflation that results from one-time increases in the prices of certain services, like air travel and hotel rates, or goods, like new and used cars, that have surged due to the reopening of the economy.

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As floods hit western Europe, scientists say climate change hikes heavy rain

The extreme rainfall causing deadly flooding across western Germany and Belgium has been so alarming, many across Europe are asking if climate change is to blame. Since the rainfall began, water has burst riverbanks and cascaded through communities, toppling telephone towers and tearing down homes along its path. At least 120 people have been killed and hundreds more were missing. Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. In general, the rising average global temperature – now about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average – makes heavy rainfall more likely, according to scientists. A 1-degree rise in average global temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water by 7%, climate scientists have said, raising the chance of heavy rainfall events. Other factors including local geography and air pressure systems also determine how specific areas are affected.

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Did climate change cause the deadly floods in west Germany and Belgium?

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China buys friends with ports and roads. Now the US is trying to compete

To counter China’s rising global economic influence, Washington has taken a new direction with foreign assistance. Rather than just lend money or promote trade, as in recent decades, the U.S. is now investing dollars overseas to advance American national-security interests. It wants ports, cellular networks and other strategic assets to stay in friendly hands.

At the forefront of this effort is an agency Congress overhauled in 2019, the International Development Finance Corp., or DFC. “It’s a very significant investment tool that we have to compete” against China, said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba set to seek vote of confidence

Nepal’s new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is set to face a vote of confidence in the reinstated lower House of parliament, according to media reports. Sher Bahadur Deuba, 75, the president of Nepali Congress, took the oath of office and secrecy on July 13, a day after a five-member Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives for the second time in five months. The prime minister will go for a floor test in the second meeting of the House of Representatives.  In the 275-member House, where 271 votes will be counted, Sher Bahadur Deuba must garner at least 136 votes to win parliament’s confidence. A failure to win the vote of confidence will lead to the dissolution of the House, and elections will be held within six months.

For details visit.

Understanding Nepal’s messy politics as it appoints Deuba its 50th PM in 58 years & Oli goes

In the light of Sher Bahadur Deuba becoming Nepal’s 50th Prime Minister in 58 years, Shekhar Gupta tells you the role played by the Supreme Court in KP Sharma Oli’s departure and why Nepal politics is so cluttered and its effect on India-Nepal.

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Pakistan parliament passes FATF-related bill

Pakistan’s parliament has passed a bill for providing legal assistance in international criminal matters as part of efforts to fulfil the conditions set by the global financial watchdog FATF. The Mutual Legal Assistance Amendment Bill was passed by the Senate, the upper house, amidst protest by the Opposition. According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, an increase in transnational organised crime has made it necessary for the international community and Pakistan to improve the effectiveness of legal instruments because lack of uniformity in law and weak coordination mechanism between countries affects combating of crimes across borders. Pakistan was placed on the grey list by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June, 2018 and was given a plan of action to complete it by October, 2019. Since then, the country continues to be in that list due to its failure to comply with the FATF mandates. 

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US Navy hands over MH-60R maritime helicopters to India

In yet another sign of strengthening India-US defence relationship, the US Navy has handed over the first two MH-60R Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) to the Indian Navy to bolster its capabilities to ward off regional threats and to strengthen homeland defence. The Indian Navy is procuring 24 of these helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin under foreign military sales from the US government at an estimated cost of USD2.4 billion. The MH-60R helicopter is an all-weather maritime helicopter designed to support multiple missions with state-of-the-art avionics. The induction of these MRH would enhance Indian Navy’s three-dimensional capabilities. The helicopters would also be modified with several unique equipment and weapons.

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US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan to form quad group to enhance regional connectivity

The United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, have agreed in principle to establish a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focused on enhancing regional connectivity, the Biden administration has said. “The parties consider long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan critical to regional connectivity and agree that peace and regional connectivity are mutually reinforcing,” the State Department said.

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Syrian president sworn in for 4th term in war-torn country

Syrian President Bashar Assad was sworn in for a fourth seven-year term in the war-torn country. In power since 2000, Mr. Assad’s re-election in a landslide was never in doubt. His new term starts with the country still devastated by 10 years of war and sliding deeper into a worsening economic crisis. The conflict that began in 2011 started after the government cracked down on peaceful protests, turning the opposition against the decades-long rule of the Assad family into an armed rebellion. Mr. Assad, targeted by widening sanctions and isolated by the West, is supported by Iran and Russia, who sent in troops and assistance that have propped him up throughout the war. Mr. Assad took over in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who seized power in 1970 in a bloodless military coup.

For details visit.

Syria conflict 10 years on: Why is Bashar al-Assad still standing?

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Pegasus Project: How Phones of Journalists, Ministers, Activists may have been used to spy on them

A leaked database of thousands of telephone numbers believed to have been listed by multiple government clients of an Israeli surveillance technology firm includes over 300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others, according to an investigation by The Wire and 16 media partners. Forensic tests conducted as part of this project on a small cross-section of phones associated with these numbers revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian. The leaked database was accessed by Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with The Wire and other news organisations as part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project’.

For details visit.

2) India  

Covid update

2 doses highly successful in preventing deaths during second wave: ICMR study

Two vaccine doses have prevented 95 per cent Covid-19 deaths among “high-risk” policemen during the Delta variant-driven second wave, NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul said citing an ICMR study. The NITI Aayog member said the results of the study show 82 per cent vaccine effectiveness among the personnel who had received a single dose and 95 per cent effectiveness with two doses. “Conclusion is that two doses of vaccine in this study were successful in preventing 95 percent deaths due to Covid-19. This is in the midst of a second wave driven by the delta variant,” Paul said.

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Third wave may hit country around August end, says ICMR’s Dr Samiran Panda

Head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Dr Samiran Panda warned that the third wave of the COVID-19 might hit the country by August end. He also warned states that witnessed the low impact of the first two waves of COVID-19, cautioning that they might experience a severe third wave if restrictions are not maintained. “When will the third wave come and how severe it can be, all these questions are related to many factors which are not known to the full extent. They say that the second wave is not over yet because there are fluctuations in the reported number of cases. The fluctuation certainly has to do with the test conducted and the reporting mechanism,” he said.

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Other updates

Uttar Pradesh bill: The myth of India’s population explosion

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has unveiled a controversial bill for curbing population growth. It proposes denying government jobs, promotions, subsidies and the right to contest local elections to anyone who has more than two children. UP, which is home to over 220 million people, has long been a governance challenge and has consistently ranked low on development indices. But experts say its population growth – like India’s – is already slowing. Experts have warned against a “coercive” two-child policy that denies women agency and further increases unsafe or sex-selective abortions, given the deep-rooted and overwhelming preference for sons.

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As Yogi govt moves on population, we look at the politics, data & if family size is religion-linked

Shekhar Gupta analyses the controversial Population Control Bill and Population Plan in Uttar Pradesh and shares some data on population growth rates in several states, looking at the fertility rate comparisons between Hindus & Muslims.

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UN human rights experts call on India to halt evictions in Faridabad’s Khori

Experts from the United Nations Human Rights Council called on India to halt the eviction of around 100,000 people from Khori village in Faridabad, and said “it is particularly important that residents be kept safe during the pandemic”. The Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF) started demolishing the village houses in pursuance of a June 7 Supreme Court order, which directed authorities to clear within six weeks encroachments from Aravalli Forest land designated as a protected forest in 1992. The court is scheduled to hear the matter on July 19, when the MCF has to file a compliance report.

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Hardeep Singh Puri conveys India’s concerns over high oil prices to Saudi Arabia, UAE

India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, has conveyed to OPEC countries its concern over high oil prices that are threatening to impact the nascent economic recovery after the devastating pandemic. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and India’s second-biggest source after Iraq. The discussions focused “on strengthening bilateral energy partnership and developments in the global energy markets,” India, which imports 85 per cent of its oil needs, has long pressed producers’ cartel OPEC and its allies, called OPEC+, to phase out its production cuts and allow oil prices to come to reasonable levels that support growth. It wants OPEC+ to stop propping up prices with its output cuts.

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Sedition case: Talks fail at Sirsa, farmers start camping on streets

The situation in Sirsa continues to remain volatile with thousands of protesters camping on the streets after the first round of talks between agitating farmers and the district administration failed. The farmers are protesting FIR against 100 farmers and subsequent arrest of five of their men over sedition and attempt to murder charges over an attack on Haryana Vidhan Sabha’s deputy speaker Ranbir Gangwa’s car on July 11. The 90-minute talk was initiated only after the protesters managed to break police barricades and started walking towards the headquarters of the district administration. After the talks failed, farmers blocked Sirsa’s one of the busiest roundabouts — Prajapati Chowk — and the Sirsa-Barnala highway.

For details visit.

Question CJI Ramana should ask Modi govt at next sedition hearing: Is India made of porcelain?

Sedition law isn’t just a colonial hangover. It’s a convenient weapon for under-performing governments to conflate themselves with the nation and use against critics.
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India’s economy may have grown 22.1% in Q1, but demand is still low: RBI

The tapering of the second Covid-19 wave, coupled with an aggressive vaccination push, has brightened the near-term prospects for the Indian economy, and real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is estimated at 22.1 per cent in the April-June quarter, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its July bulletin. “A solid increase in aggregate demand is yet to take shape. Even with a 9.5 per cent GDP growth in 2020-21, there will be substantial slack in the economy and demand pressures may take some more time to become evident,” the central bank warned in the article titled State of the Economy.

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4) Markets, Banking and Finance

RBI bans Mastercard from onboarding new customers in India from July 22

The Reserve Bank of India has barred Mastercard Inc from issuing new debit, credit and prepaid cards to Indian customers after it was found violating data storage rules. The country’s central banking authority said the ban will come into effect on July 22, but will not impact existing customers of the card issuer. Mastercard had been allowed to operate its card network in the country under the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007. In April 2018, the RBI had directed Mastercard and other such system providers to ensure that their entire data, including full end-to-end transaction details, information collected, carried, processed as part of the message or a payment instruction be stored in a system in India only. Companies including American Express, and Discover Financial Services-owned Diners Club International, were also barred three months ago by the RBI for similar violations.

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Why RBI banned MasterCard from issuing new credit & debit cards in India

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Second wave impact: HDFC Bank’s NBFC arm sees bad loans double in three months

The second COVID wave exacerbated asset quality metrics for non-bank financial companies with HDB Financial Services, the NBFC arm of HDFC Bank, seeing its gross bad loans almost triple in a year. The bank said that its non-bank lender posted gross non-performing asset ratio of 7.75% at the end of June 30, 2021 against 2.86% same period a year ago. The bad loans doubled in just one quarter showed a sequential comparison of numbers. The GNPA ratio was at 3.89% as on March 31 2021.

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Bandhan Bank’s weak Q1 is a warning on microfinance

Investors of Bandhan Bank, micro-lender turned full-service bank, will need to watch out for additional pain on asset quality as a sharp fall in collection efficiency during the June quarter doesn’t bode well. The lender’s metrics also confirm worries about the severe impact of the second wave on the microfinance segment. In an early update on the first quarter, the bank said its overall collection efficiency dropped to 80% during April-June from 96% in the previous quarter. That for microfinance loans was even lower at 72%, only marginally higher than that of previous year. 

For details visit.

5) Business

Reliance Retail acquires 40.95% stake in Just Dial for ? 3,947 Crore

Reliance Retail, the retail arm of billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited, acquired a stake of 40.95 per cent for ? 3,497 crore in leading internet technology B2B company Just Dial. As per the definitive agreements on July 16, the retail company will make an open offer to acquire up to 26 per cent in accordance with takeover regulations set by market regulator SEBI. This means that Reliance Retail may acquire a majority stake of 66.95 per cent in Just Dial. With the acquisition, Just Dial Founder VSS Mani will continue to lead the company as its managing director and chief executive officer (CEO).

For details visit.

Online commerce industry to touch $188bn by 2025: Ficci

The online commerce industry is projected to reach $188 billion in 2025 from $64 billion last year, with growing consumer preference to buy on digital marketplaces, according to a report by Ficci. “Now, consumers are no longer turning to online commerce as an alternative buying channel. Its massive growth, projected to reach $188 billion in 2025 from $ 64 billion in 2020, is signalling to its solidification as the default, primary buying channel for many,” the report said.

For details visit.

Patanjali Group clocks Rs 30k Cr turnover in FY21; aims to be debt-free in 3-4 years

Baba Ramdev announced that Patanjali group’s turnover touched Rs 30,000 crore last fiscal on the back of the acquisition of Ruchi Soya, and said it is being evaluated when to list his flagship firm Patanjali Ayurved. Ruchi Soya, which the Patanjali group acquired through the insolvency process, contributed more than half to the overall turnover of the group. The group is aiming to make its companies debt-free in the coming three to four years, and a substantial portion of the follow-on public offer (FPO) of Ruchi Soya, which has a debt of around Rs 3,330 crore, will be diverted to pare its debt, said Ramdev.

For details visit.

Hero Electric vehicles to invest Rs 700 Cr for business expansion by 2025

Hero Electric Vehicles will invest Rs 700 crore by 2025 to rev up its business expansion, including setting up of a new manufacturing unit, for which it has raised Rs 220 crore to part-fund the activities. The company is planning to set up a new manufacturing facility with an annual capacity of 10 lakh units besides increasing production at its current plant at Ludhiana to 3 lakh units per annum from 75,000 units at present, as it targets to sell around 10 lakh units a year by 2025-26. Moreover, it is also ramping up research and development (R&D), marketing, dealer network expansion, along with expanding its supply chain, service network, and charging stations in order to cash in on the ‘explosive growth’ in demand for its electric two-wheelers.

For details visit.

Ola gets 1 lakh bookings for electric scooter

Ola Electric said it has received around 1 lakh bookings for its upcoming scooter within the first 24 hours of initiating the process. The company had opened booking for its electric scooter in the evening of July 15. Ola claims the electric scooter would be class leading in terms of speed, range, boot space as well as technology. The company has stated that the model would be priced aggressively to make it widely accessible. Ola plans to reveal the features and price of the scooter in the coming days.

For details visit.

6) Technology

Bhutan now adopts India’s BHIM-UPI payments system

After the resounding success of Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in India, NPCI will now launch BHIM-UPI in Bhutan in collaboration with the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan. As per the deal, all merchants acquired by the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan will accept UPI QR transactions, the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) said in a press release. The launch will benefit more than 2,00,000 tourists from India who travel to Bhutan each year, as well the Bhutanese people, it added. This makes Bhutan the first country to adopt UPI standards for its QR deployment. Bhutan will also become the only country to both issue and accept RuPay cards, as well as accept BHIM-UPI. Singapore also accepts BHIM-UPI at merchant sites. The service was launched by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on July 13, 2021, in a virtual press conference.

For details visit.

7) Politics

Piyush Goyal gets a step up in BJP, named new Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha

In what is being seen as his growing political stature within the BJP, Commerce and Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal was appointed as the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha. The post had fallen vacant after former social justice and empowerment minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot was dropped from the Union cabinet and appointed as the Karnataka governor. Parliament sources said Goyal’s elevation is a big recognition and acknowledgment of his position in the party. Goyal has been a Rajya Sabha member since 2010. 

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‘Fix criminal liability’: After BJP, now Congress wants probe into bus procurement by AAP govt

The Congress party has sought a probe into the procurement of 1,000 DTC buses by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, as it joined the clamor over the issue weeks after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started to allege “corruption” in the matter. Delhi Congress chief Anil Kumar sought a detailed investigation by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) into the purchase and maintenance of the buses, alleging a “scam of Rs 4288 crore”. However, the panel had absolved the public officials of any “criminal misconduct” over the procurement of the buses. “The committee, prima facie, did not come across any material to impute criminal misconduct attributable to any public official. There were only procedural lapses apparently arising out of a bonafide decision-making process,” it had said. But the Congress has caught on to the section of the report that raised questions over the maintenance cost, and has asked for a deeper probe.

For details visit.

Why everyone’s upset with Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole — Sena, NCP & his own party

From constant declarations that the Congress will contest future polls in Maharashtra solo, to alleging that the state government is keeping a tab on him, Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole has emerged as a prickly thorn both within the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) at the helm of the Maharashtra government, as well as within the state Congress fold.

Congress leaders say the former MP’s comments and recent actions, which seem to stem from his own political ambitions, have created a flutter not just within the MVA, which comprises the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, but have also led to factionalism and differences within his own party.

For details visit.

8) Sports

Olympic Cluster scare as athletes test Positive in Tokyo Games Village

Two athletes have tested positive for the coronavirus in the Tokyo Olympic Village after a team colleague was also infected, officials said, raising fears of a cluster just days before the opening ceremony. The first cases involving athletes in the Village come a day after a member of their entourage returned the first positive test in the complex, which will house thousands of athletes. The three infections were revealed as competitors fly in from around the world for the pandemic-delayed Olympics, which are facing significant opposition in Japan due to their Covid risks. Athletes are arriving to find a restrictive environment, with daily testing, social distancing and no movement possible outside the Olympic “bubble”. They are under orders to leave Japan 48 hours after their event.

For details visit.

9) Opinion

Afghanistan: What happens if the Taliban takes over Kabul

The speed of the Taliban advance in Afghanistan and the lackluster resistance from the Afghan National Army has taken by surprise, defense and security policy analysts around the world. Even the Pakistanis are reportedly surprised by the rapid gains that the Taliban have made. In about two months since the US withdrawal commenced, the Taliban have doubled the number of districts under their control. But what is even more spectacular is the fact that they have made significant inroads in areas that were traditionally not their strongholds and from where the maximum resistance to them came. Clearly, the way the battlefield is shaping up, it seems to be just a matter of time – or maybe a couple of months – before the Taliban walk-in triumphant into Kabul.

For details visit.

Taliban caught on camera executing 22 Afghan commandos taken prisoner, make rapid gains

In the light of a recent execution by the Taliban of 22 Afghan commandos who responded to their call to surrender, Shekhar Gupta analyses the fast-changing military & tactical situation, the state of the Afghanistan military & the Taliban amid US’ departure and tells you why the situation will worsen faster than imagined.

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Will Mastercard’s loss benefit Visa and homegrown RuPay?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ban on payments giant Mastercard to onboard new customers has forced banks to mitigate their risk by tying up with Visa and home-grown RuPay. RBL Bank and Yes Bank which both had exclusive tie ups with Mastercard for issuing credit cards are already working on alternatives. While RBL Bank signed up with Visa as recently as last week, a Yes Bank spokesperson said the bank is evaluating migrating to other platforms. Both banks said they expect no disruption to their existing customers due to the RBI action.

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Nitish Mittersain on building Nazara Technologies and its journey to becoming a Rs 5,000 Cr gaming company

Gaming and sports media platform Nazara Technologies went public in March this year. Nitish Mittersain, Founder and Managing Director of Nazara Technologies, says “One big advantage we have is that we are the only listed gaming company today in the market, which allows us to offer our listed equity to partners, and that is a big opportunity, because it gives us further leverage. It also allows us to get our incoming partners, founders, and management teams to hold Nazara stocks, which kind of aligns them to the overall growth story,” With its IPO, Nazara gave over 80 percent as listing gains to its IPO applicants. According to Nitish, the company is today valued at around Rs 5,000 crore. While Nazara is now one of the leading gaming companies in the country, it also overcame its fair share of challenges in the early days. In the initial years, when Nazara was launched, the online gaming industry had not yet gained popularity in India.

For details visit.

Decrypting Crypto Trends: Why is square moving into the Bitcoin custody space?

Square, one of the world’s biggest fintech companies, with a market capitalisation of $107 billion, wants to build a Bitcoin hardware wallet to make Bitcoin custody mainstream. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, announced on Twitter that the wallet, an inclusive product that brings a non-custodial solution to the next 100 million people, would be built entirely in the open, from software to hardware design, and in collaboration with the community. The global digital asset management (DAM) market size is projected to grow from $3.4 billion in 2020 to $6.0 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%. Even institutional players such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sach and corporates have taken cognizance of the growth potential of the digital currency space. There is a global demand for secure custody alternatives to manage and use digital assets. It is a no-brainer why Square wants to be a force to reckon with in this space.

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Dogecoin creator says crypto industry financially exploits the vulnerable

Jackson Palmer, co-founder of meme-inspired Dogecoin, has called the cryptocurrency industry a “right-wing, hyper-capitalistic technology” built primarily to amplify the wealth of the rich by extracting money from “the financially desperate and naive”. Jackson Palmer and Billy Markus created the meme-based token Dogecoin in 2013 as a joke, with no intention of making it one of the top cryptocurrencies. The co-founders quit the project few years later, and sold their holdings before the cryptocurrency’s sudden rise earlier this year. Palmer described cryptocurrency as taking the worst parts of today’s capitalist system like fraud, corruption and inequality and using software to technically limit the use of interventions including audits, regulations and taxation which serve as protections or safety nets for the average person. The dogecoin co-creator also pointed at the inherent lack of accountability in the industry, stating that it will always be the crypto owner’s fault if they lose their savings account password or fall victim to scam. “This is the type of dangerous “free for all” capitalism cryptocurrency was unfortunately architected to facilitate since its inception,” he noted.

For details visit.

Why the Western drought will have major ripple effects | WSJ

Droughts are part of a natural cycle of water. But the drought currently gripping the Western U.S. has climate scientists concerned that the cycle may be shifting. This has major implications for those who rely on the water the most: farmers and the communities they surround.

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Covid-19: why your life will never be the same again | The Economist

Across much of the world, covid-19 restrictions are starting to ease. The Economist has crunched the data to calculate how close countries are to pre-pandemic levels of normality—but will life ever be the same again?

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With that, we come to an end for our Weekly Current Affairs July 2021 -week 3. Hope you have liked it. Write your feedback in the comments below and let us know if there is anything else you would like us to cover.

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