From Home Help to Driver, New Class of Indian Homeowner

When Rajnish Dhall’s driver wanted to borrow money to buy a home, Dhall suggested he go to a bank. But without proof of income or tax returns to show his credentials, the driver said no bank would lend to him. It was the start of a whole new business for Dhall, a former banker whose firm aims to help the hundreds of millions of informal workers who make up the bulk of India’s labor force. They are the newly emerging home-owning class. “My driver was earning a steady income and could have paid back the loan easily, yet none of the banks would lend to him because he didn’t have the necessary paperwork,” Dhall told Reuters. “The housing problem is very real and visible, especially in a city like Mumbai. There is certainly aspiration to own a home, but without finance, there is no way to realize the aspiration.” Dhall lent his driver the money, then looked more closely at home loans for a host of other workers in the informal sector. Of India’s 470 million-strong workforce, about 90 percent is in the informal sector. They include domestic help, street vendors, daily wage earners and small business operators, who may have no collateral and whose incomes are irregular. They have few options besides borrowing from money lenders and employers, Dhall found. So he set up Micro Housing Finance Corp. to give home loans to low-income and informal workers. Housing for all More homes are desperately needed. Already, one in three …

NASA Spacecraft Will Aim Straight for Sun Next Year

The United States space agency NASA says it will launch a mission next year to send a spacecraft directly into the sun’s atmosphere. NASA announced the plan at the University of Chicago Wednesday during a ceremony to honor astrophysicist Eugene Parker, whom the Parker Solar Probe is named after. The probe will gather data on solar activity and give us a better idea of how space-weather events can impact life of Earth. It will orbit within four million miles of the sun’s surface, about eight times closer to the sun than any spacecraft has ever flown. It will need to withstand heat and radiation no human could endure. “Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” said mission scientist Nicola Fox. “It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface.” Parker was the first scientist to study the phenomenon now known as solar wind and his research changed the way scientists understand the way stars interact with the worlds that orbit them. WATCH: Parker on solar probe Solar winds are made of charged gases emanating from the sun. Those winds eventually flow past the Earth at around 1.6 million kilometers per hour and scientists believe they have the capability to cause serious damage to the planet. At its closest point to the sun, the spacecraft’s …

Czech Republic Enforces Smoking Ban After Years of Debate

The Czech Republic on Wednesday enforced a smoking ban in bars, restaurants and cafes, putting to an end to the country’s status as one of the last havens for tobacco smokers in Europe. The ban, which applies to inside areas of bars and restaurants as well as public places like cinemas, theaters and sports venues, was approved by Parliament following years of heated debate and signed by President Milos Zeman, a chain smoker. Unlike most of Europe, Czechs had remained tolerant of smoking up until now — and it was up to restaurant owners to decide whether to allow it in their establishments. According to data from the European Union, 17 member states have comprehensive smoke-free laws in place. But some, including Austria, Portugal, Romania and Serbia, only have partial bans on indoor smoking in restaurants and bars. Others, like Greece, have official bans but the rules are flouted — even by government ministers. After the Czech ban, Slovakia appeared to be the only EU country left with no official ban in place inside bars. The Czech Health Ministry said it estimated 18,000 Czechs die of smoking every year and another two thousand non-smokers die due to exposure to second-hand smoke. From Wednesday, which is World No Tobacco Day, violating the ban would incur a fine of up to 5,000 koruna ($190). Most Czechs approve the ban, but a group of lawmakers have challenged it at the Constitutional Court. Jakub Storek, owner of the Cafe Liberal in Prague — a …

Study: China Struggles to Kick World-Leading Cigarette Habit

Most smokers in China, the world’s largest tobacco consumer, have no intention of kicking the habit and remain unaware of some of its most damaging health effects, Chinese health officials and outside researchers said Wednesday. An estimated 316 million people smoke in China, almost a quarter of the population, and concerns are growing about the long-term effects on public health and the economy.   The vast majority of smokers are men, of whom 59 percent told surveyors that they have no plans to quit, according to a decade-long study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian researchers with the International Tobacco Control project.   Such numbers have prompted efforts to restrict the formerly ubiquitous practice. Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai having recently moved to ban public smoking, with Shanghai’s prohibition going into effect in March. In 2015, the central government approved a modest nationwide cigarette tax increase. But Chinese and international health officials argue that more is needed, including a nationwide public smoking ban, higher cigarette taxes and more aggressive health warnings. Such actions are “critically important,” Yuan Jiang, director of tobacco control for the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said in a statement released with Wednesday’s study.   A public smoking ban appeared imminent last year. The government health ministry said in December that it would happen by the end of 2016, but that has yet to materialize.   “They have to figure out what’s important as a health policy,” said Geoffrey Fong of …

Уряд погіршив прогноз зростання ВВП в 2017 році до 1,8% з 3%

Кабінет міністрів України погіршив прогноз зростання ВВП України в 2017 році до 1,8% з раніше прогнозованих 3%, а прогноз інфляції – до 11,2% з 8,1%. Відповідну постанову було ухвалено сьогодні на засіданні уряду.  Уряд переглянув прогноз номінального ВВП із 2 584,9 мільярда гривень до 2 845,8, а прогноз зростання з 3% до 1,8%. При цьому прогноз середньомісячної заробітної плати становитиме 7 104 гривні замість 5 988 гривень. Наприкінці березня Національний банк погіршив прогноз зростання валового внутрішнього продукту України в 2017 році з 2,8% до 1,9%.  Світовий банк зберіг помірний прогноз зростання валового внутрішнього продукту України в 2017 році у розмірі 2%. З нового року в Україні вдвічі зросла мінімальна зарплата. Тепер де-юре роботодавці не можуть платити своїм працівникам менш ніж 3200 гривень.   …

New Graphene Water Filter Makes Salt Water Drinkable

The United Nations predicts that by 2025 nearly two billion people will be living in places where there’s not enough water to go around. And since on average water makes up about 60% of the human body, not having it has a host of devastating effects that go way beyond just being thirsty. That’s why some new technology to turn saltwater into drinkable water holds so much promise, VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports. …

Vietnam to Sign Deals for Up to $17B in US Goods, Services

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said Tuesday that he would sign deals for U.S. goods and services worth $15 billion to $17 billion during his visit to Washington, mainly for high-technology products and for services. “Vietnam will increase the import of high technologies and services from the United States, and on the occasion of this visit, many important deals will be made,” Phuc told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce dinner. Phuc, who is due to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the end of a three-day visit to the United States, did not provide further details of the transactions. GE Power Chief Executive Officer Steve Bolze told the dinner that General Electric Co. would sign deals worth about $6 billion with Vietnam, but also offered no details. Phuc’s comments came after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed concern about the rapid growth of the U.S. trade deficit with Vietnam, saying this was a new challenge for the two countries and that he was looking to Phuc to help address it. “Over the last decade, our bilateral trade deficit has risen from about $7 billion to nearly $32 billion,” Lighthizer said. “This concerning growth in our trade deficit presents new challenges and shows us that there is considerable potential to improve further our important trade relationship.” Reducing deficits Lighthizer and other Trump administration trade officials have pledged to work to reduce U.S. bilateral deficits with major trading partners. The $32 billion deficit with Vietnam last year — …

Mexico to Review Rules of Origin to Help NAFTA Renegotiation

Mexico’s foreign minister says the country is “inevitably” set to review rules of origin when renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving a boost to President Donald Trump’s manufacturing push. Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray said Tuesday at an event in Miami that NAFTA has allowed Mexican industry to enter the U.S. market with lax rules of origin. The rules dictate how much U.S. content a product assembled in Mexico must have in order to escape tariffs when being imported into the United States. Currently set at 62.5 percent for the auto industry, that number could increase. “One part that must inevitably be reviewed is the chapter on rules of origin,” Videgaray said at the University of Miami. “Over time, the free trade agreement has sometimes been used — not always, of course, but sometimes — as a way to access the U.S. market perhaps with laxity in some ways of rules of origin.” The Trump administration told Congress this month there would be 90 days of consultations on the renegotiation of the 23-year-old pact before beginning talks with Canada and Mexico. Annual trade of goods between Mexico and the U.S. was worth $525 billion in 2016, with the U.S. running a trade deficit of more than $63 billion. The foreign minister said Mexico won’t entertain any talks on building a wall along the border. Videgaray maintained it is seen as an unfriendly sign and questioned its efficiency. Trump’s budget seeks $2.6 billion for border security technology, including money …

Man Probing Ivanka Trump Brands in China Arrested; Two Others Missing

A man investigating working conditions at a Chinese company that produces Ivanka Trump-brand shoes has been arrested and two others are missing, the arrested man’s wife and an advocacy group said Tuesday. Hua Haifeng was accused of illegal surveillance, according to his wife, Deng Guilian, who said the police called her Tuesday afternoon. Deng said the caller told her she didn’t need to know the details, only that she would not be able to see, speak with or receive money from her husband, the family’s breadwinner. China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang said he lost contact with Hua Haifeng and the other two men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, over the weekend. By Tuesday, after dozens of unanswered calls, he had concluded: “They must be held either by the factory or the police to be unreachable.” China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit, was planning to publish a report next month alleging low pay, excessive overtime and the possible misuse of student interns. It is unclear whether the undercover investigative methods used by the advocacy group are legal in China. For 17 years, China Labor Watch has investigated working conditions at suppliers to some of the world’s best-known companies, but Li said his work has never before attracted this level of scrutiny from China’s state security apparatus. “Our plan was to investigate the factory to improve the labor situation,” Li said. “But now it has become more political.” Disney decision Walt Disney Co. stopped working with a toy maker …