Research: In a Warming Climate, the Poor Get Poorer

Climate change will have an impact, not just on the temperature, but on the economy, according to a new analysis. A group of researchers has just released a study focused on the future economic effects of climate change in the U.S. Using six different economic variables, the team is predicting, with county by county accuracy, how a warming climate will rapidly change American society over the next century. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports. …

Court: US Can Seize New York Tower Linked to Iran

A New York jury ruled Thursday in federal court that a skyscraper with apparent ties to the Iranian government can be seized by the U.S. government, in what prosecutors are calling the single largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture case in American history. The jury found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns about 60 percent of the 36-floor building, funneled money to the Assa Corporation, a shell company for Iran’s state-controlled bank that owned the remaining 40 percent of the building. The defense argued that the Alavi Foundation, founded as a charity by the shah of Iran in the 1970s, had been tricked into believing that Assa had been sold to private investors after the 1995 implementation of U.S. sanctions on Iran. “It’s really difficult to understand why you can be held accountable for the knowledge that you were trying to get, but you were lied to about,” defense attorney John Gleeson said during closing arguments, according to The New York Times. Prosecutors asserted that officials from the Alavi Foundation lied, hiding and shredding documents in an attempt to erase guilt. “The owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented U.S. economic sanctions,” Joon H. Kim, a lawyer from the prosecutor’s office, told French news agency AFP. Situated on New York City’s posh Fifth Avenue, the building is valued at between $500 million and $1 billion. The court has decided to distribute the proceeds from its sale …

Thailand, China to Sign $5 Billion Rail Infrastructure Agreement

In a major boost to Thailand’s transportation infrastructure, the military government is set to sign a more than $5 billion agreement with China for a high-speed rail network. The first stage of the rail, the 252 kilometers from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, is a key step in a line that, once complete, will stretch more than 1,260 kilometers to Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province. The next stages will reach the Thai border with Laos.  Analysts see the rail line as an extension of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, expanding regional trade and investment. The project also highlights China’s growing regional influence. The agreement, expected to be signed in July, follows almost two years of delays in negotiations, with final details of the contract still to be made public. The deal has also raised widespread criticism of the government’s use of powerful clauses in an interim charter. Economic boost for Thailand Economists say investment in Thailand’s rail infrastructure needs to be a priority. Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of business studies at Thammasat University, said general improvements to Thailand’s transportation network are welcome. Several other countries, including Japan and South Korea, have put forward transportation plans and proposals for rail systems in recent years. “It’s good for Thailand and it’s good for Thai business. I would say a clear ‘yes’ because Thailand is in dire need of better infrastructure, especially with regard to transport,” Pavida said. Thailand, she said, faces high transportation logistics costs due to a reliance on roads. …

India to Rollout Momentous Tax Reform, But Many Fear Rocky Transition

India is set to rollout a momentous tax reform at midnight Friday that will transform the country of 1.3 billion people into a single market. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will replace an entanglement of more than a dozen confusing levies with a single tax and bring down barriers between states. But the transition is bringing upheaval. The new tax has sparked strikes, protests and concerns it could disrupt many businesses unprepared for a leap into the digital economy. In markets across the country, confusion and chaos prevail among millions of small shopkeepers and traders, who have for decades maintained records in dusty ledgers and issued paper receipts to customers. Some are hurriedly investing in computers as new rules require all but the smallest businesses to submit online taxes every month. Calculator to computer Suresh Kumar, who runs a family owned store in a bustling neighborhood market in New Delhi, has never operated a computer and does not have an Internet connection in his shop. His customers mostly pay in cash and a calculator on his counter is the only modern gadget he has used since he opened this shop 47 years ago. “How will I pay the salary of an accountant? I can barely cover the costs of these three men who help me,” Kumar said, pointing out that stores like his run on wafer-thin profit margins to stay in business. The archaic accounting systems that were the method of operation of thousands of shops and traders also …

Experiencing Hurricane-Force Wind

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has arrived. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s a 45 percent chance that this year’s activity will be above normal, with up to four major hurricanes. VOA’s George Putic visited the wind tunnel at the nearby University of Maryland to experience the hurricane-strength wind and check out the latest in the science of predicting the stormy weather. …

US Growth in First Quarter Better Than Expected, Global Outlook Improves

U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2017 was better than expected but not by much. The Commerce Department says U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew 1.4 percent from January to March, 0.2 percent faster than the previous estimate. But many analysts believe U.S. growth will improve in the second quarter. And growth prospects for the global economy are the best they’ve been in six years. Mil Arcega has more. …

Preterm Births in US Increase for a Second Year 

New government data show the health of pregnant women and babies in the U.S. is getting worse, and a report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows the number of babies born prematurely has been increasing since 2014. Preterm American births increased in 2016 and 2015 after seven years of steady declines. Prematurity rose by 2 percent in 2016 and by 1.6 percent the year before. Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, a nonprofit U.S. group that works to eliminate prematurity and birth defects, called the increase “an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction.” Expand health care Stewart called on Washington to expand access to quality prenatal care and promote proven ways to help reduce the risk of preterm birth. Noting that the U.S. Senate is considering a health care bill that many Americans believe would reduce health benefits for poor families and change coverage for maternity and newborn care, Stewart said now “is not the time to make it harder for women to get the care they need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.” In the U.S., about 400,000 babies born each year before the 37th week of pregnancy are considered preterm. No one knows all the causes of prematurity, but researchers have discovered that even late-term “preemies” face developmental challenges that full-term babies do not. Several studies show that health problems related to preterm births persist through adult life, problems such …

Kenya’s Nomads Work Together to Reduce Conflicts and Poverty

It looked like a hostage swap, only the currency was livestock and the mission was to end decades of deadly clashes. More than 50 sheep, goats and cows stood in the scorching heat of a desolate no-man’s land in arid northern Kenya, as Maasai and Samburu herders negotiated their handover. Lipan Kitonga cast a critical eye over his emaciated herd, which 10 gun-toting Samburu had stolen from his home in Isiolo County, 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Kenya’s capital. “I was not around at the time,” said Kitonga, a community-based police officer, known as a police reservist, dressed in camouflage fatigues with a G3 rifle in hand. “Otherwise it would have been a different matter,” he said, his voice still tight with anger nine days after the animal theft. Drought and violence Nomadic herders in remote northern Kenya, which is awash with illegal arms, frequently raid cattle from each other and fight over scarce pasture and water, especially during droughts. A wave of violence has hit Isiolo’s neighboring Laikipia region in recent months as armed herders searching for grazing have driven tens of thousands of cattle onto private farms and ranches from denuded communal land. The livestock exchange was organized by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a charity set up in 2004 with support from donors and conservationists to reduce conflict and poverty among nomads by helping them better manage their land. Almost 300,000 people are members of NRT’s 33 conservancies, which are community organizations focused on conservation, owning …

The Next Silicon Valley? Head to France  

France is known worldwide for its wine, food and culture, but under its new president, the French are aiming to be the new global hub for tech startups. President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to build a version of Silicon Valley in France. His administration has launched pro-business initiatives that are loosening government restrictions and encouraging entrepreneurs to launch their startups in the country. “The tradition has been in Europe and in France to invest in big, traditional companies and not specifically [in] tech startups. So we will dedicate a €10 billion fund to the investment in tech startups in France,” said Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for Digital Affairs. Both public and private investments will factor into Macron’s vision of France as a “country of unicorns” — the term popularly used for tech startups valued at $1 billion or more, said Mahjoubi, who recently was in New York City for “La French Touch” conference, where he discussed France’s strategy for attracting the tech world’s best and brightest. In the French tech world, all eyes are on the privately financed Station F, which is set to open this summer in Paris. Billed as the world’s biggest startup campus, the 34,000-square-meter space already has major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Ubisoft signed on. The companies will develop their products, as well as host and mentor startup founders in incubator programs. One thousand individual startups are expected to set up shop at Station F. Seeking global appeal Silicon Valley …