Day: May 12, 2017

5 Immigrant Women Vie for Miss USA Pageant Title

Five of the contestants vying for the Miss USA title have a message to immigrant girls and women watching the pageant this weekend: Set goals, work hard and don’t stay in the shadows.

The contestants know what they are talking about, as they were all born in other countries and immigrated to the U.S. at young ages as their families pursued their versions of the American Dream. The women are now all U.S. citizens.

“I want them to see that anything is possible if you work hard,” said Linette De Los Santos, who immigrated with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old. “As Miss USA, I would love to be able to be that inspiration for our immigrant community. If I would have stopped following my dreams and working hard toward what I wanted, I wouldn’t be sitting here as Miss Florida USA or in law school ready to become an immigration attorney.”

The competition airs Sunday from Las Vegas.

De Los Santos, Miss North Dakota Raquel Wellentin, Miss Hawaii Julie Kuo, Miss Connecticut Olga Litvinenko and Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg spoke to The Associated Press about the opportunities and challenges they’ve faced as immigrants. 

Their remarks stand in stark contrast to the scandal that enveloped the pageant in 2015, when part owner and now President Donald Trump offended Hispanics when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his bid for the White House. Trump co-owned The Miss Universe Organization with NBCUniversal, but the network and the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision quickly cut ties with him, refusing to air the show. Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling off the entire pageant to talent management company WME/IMG.

Miss North Dakota Raquel Wellentin

Wellentin and her family left the Philippines over safety fears when she was 2 years old. Their first taste of American life was in the small community of Enderlin, North Dakota, where she and her siblings felt isolated.

“Nobody wanted to talk to me at all. I came home one day and I asked my dad ‘Why am I so different? Why isn’t anyone talking to me?”‘ Wellentin said. “My dad told me, ‘You know, you are not different. You are very unique yourself. You have to be strong and really accept this negativity from other people and have it motivate you.’ I still keep that in my mind.”

Their situation improved when they moved to the larger and more diverse Fargo, North Dakota.

Wellentin, 24, who wants to be a middle school teacher after she completes a student-teaching requirement, said her experiences have taught her to not take no for an answer.

“I want to tell people that they need to make sure that they should not allow anyone to tell them that they can’t do something because only you can determine your future,” she said.

Miss Connecticut Olga Litvinenko

Like thousands of immigrants, Litvinenko moved to the U.S. with her family after her mother won the lottery for a green card. She was 3 years old when they relocated from Ukraine a few years after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The 27-year-old business owner ventured into pageants when she could no longer play basketball after injuring a foot in high school. She won Miss Connecticut Teen on her first try, but had to compete five times to reach the Miss USA competition. Her persistence, Litvinenko said, shows that every effort counts.

“I want to showcase that no matter who you are, no matter what your background is, your size or what you have done in the past, through hard work and discipline, through perseverance and determination, you really can achieve what you put your heart toward.”


Melissa McCarthy Mocks Sean Spicer with Motorized Podium

Melissa McCarthy has gone into the streets of Manhattan to lampoon White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The comedian was captured on video Friday morning riding a motorized podium in midtown while dressed as Spicer, presumably a sequence that will air when McCarthy hosts the next “Saturday Night Live.”

In the video, McCarthy is seen gliding in the middle of traffic in front of the Time Warner Center, not far from Rockefeller Center, the longtime home of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Spicer has been a frequent target of McCarthy, who has mocked him in the past in skits where she fires a water gun at the press corps and uses a lectern to ram a journalist.



Insecurity Creates Challenges for HIV Treatment in Southeast CAR

The killing of five U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic this month points to the continued insecurity in the southeastern part of the country. That violence has had an impact on public health with the southeast reporting a rate of HIV infection that is three times the national average and HIV-positive residents struggle to get treatment. For VOA, Zack Baddorf has the story from the town of Zemio.


Six Months After India Currency Ban, Poor Still Feel Effects

Like thousands of other small-business entrepreneurs in India, Charanjit Yadav saw his sales of generator sets and batteries plummet in the weeks after the government’s surprising move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency last November.

Six months on, as business booms, Yadav only recalls the currency ban when he looks at the crisp new notes that have replaced the old ones. “Everything is back to normal. It is absolutely OK for my work,” he said, glancing at the orders placed on another busy day.

But less than a kilometer from the bustling market where his shop is located in the business hub of Gurugram, near New Delhi, the massive cash crunch that India faced for more than two months has left its mark.

Braving sizzling summer temperatures of 44 degrees C (111 degrees F), a group of construction laborers had waited since dawn at a junction where contractors normally come to hire daily wage workers.

Fewer opportunities

Dhani Ram left for his village in January after work dwindled as cash shortages stopped many real estate projects. He returned a month ago, hoping that finding work would be easier. That has not happened.

“I hardly get work for 15 days in a month,” he said. “Earlier, I used to get work for about 25 days a month.”

Unable to eke out a living from his tiny farm in Uttar Pradesh state, Gajinder Singh and 11 others in his village came to the city with a contractor who promised them work. But after four days, he had not been placed anywhere.

“I sleep at night under the rail station, I don’t know what to do,” he said in despair.

Six months after India’s fast-growing economy was disrupted by the radical currency ban, growth is back on track in most sectors and stock markets are surging. But many poor people still scramble to find work as the country’s vast informal sector continues to struggle.  

Growth last year is estimated to have been around 7 percent — less than the 7.9 percent recorded in the previous year, but not as severely dented as many economists had feared. Indian officials say these numbers give the lie to grim warnings that the drastic move, meant to flush out untaxed money, would put a grinding brake on the economy.   

“It was clearly not doomsday. Looks like it was a blip, a banknote blip,” said chief economist D.K. Joshi at Crisil research and consultancy in Mumbai.

Auto sales jump

Many indicators support that. Automobile sales have jumped in recent months as serpentine lines outside banks to exchange old notes vanished. Automakers have lined up new launches as shoppers again open their purses.

Projections that the economy is poised for stronger growth has led stock markets to hit a record high in the past week. The rally has drawn tens of thousands of new middle-class investors into the market amid optimism that growth is rebounding.

Economists say most sectors of the economy are back to normal except those that depend heavily on cash transactions, such as real estate.

N.R. Bhanumurthy at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi said it would take more time to assess the full impact of the currency ban on the economy. But he said he was optimistic it did not erode confidence as was widely feared.

He pointed to India’s strengthening currency — the rupee is at a nearly two-year high and has gained about 5 percent against the dollar in recent months.

“While other currencies in the world are depreciating because of the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, ours is the only major currency that is appreciating. So that shows that the foreign investor seems to be betting heavily on the Indian growth story,” he said.

‘Devastating’ for many

However, while it is largely business as usual for the middle class and formal sectors, economists say the impact on tens of millions of people who depend on the informal sector — hawkers, vegetable sellers and laborers in cities and small farmers in remote villages — has been much harder. India’s informal sector accounts for 40 percent of gross domestic product but employs as much as 75 percent of the country’s workforce.

Calling the move “devastating” for the informal sector, economist Kaushik Basu wrote this week in the Indian Express newspaper that “the brunt of the pain of demonetization has been shouldered by the poor and the lower middle class.”

While the full impact on them may not yet have been reflected in statistics, the mood of despondency among those waiting for work in Gurugram gave support to such assessments.


Apple to Give $200 Million to Corning for Kentucky Plant

Apple says it will give $200 million to Corning Inc. so it can invest in a Kentucky plant that makes glass screens for iPhones and iPads.

The California-based company says the money will come from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund. It has pledged to spend $1 billion on US-based companies to create “innovative production and highly skilled jobs.”

Corning has had a facility in Harrodsburg for 65 years. The company has collaborated with Apple for the past 10 years by making scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass for Apple’s products. The companies say their partnership has sustained 1,000 jobs, including 400 in Harrodsburg.

Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, Corning CEO Wendell Weeks, and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell are scheduled to formally announce the spending during a 2 p.m. news conference in Harrodsburg.


Top 5 Songs for Week Ending May 13

We’re launching the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart, for the week ending May 13, 2017.

The chart again rises to the occasion, giving us another big new hit.

Number 5: Future “Mask Off”

Future spends a second straight week in fifth place with “Mask Off.” Last week, Future’s self-titled fifth album was certified gold, signaling sales of half a million — that’s in addition to the single “Draco” also going gold.

That was the eighth plaque Future earned in the month of April from the Recording Industry Association of America. To top it all off, he’s currently on a headlining tour of North America.

Number 4: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber “Despacito”

For the past three weeks, fourth place has been where the action is. That’s the case today, as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee jump five slots with “Despacito” – featuring Justin Bieber singing in Spanish for the first time.

How did this collaboration come about? Luis says Justin approached him about doing this track: it was already a global hit when Justin heard it in a Colombian club. Luis also says it was Justin’s idea to sing in Spanish. The same day this song appeared, Justin Bieber sang it in concert in Puerto Rico.

Number 3: Kendrick Lamar “Humble” 

Kendrick Lamar is no longer your Hot 100 champ, as “Humble” drops to third place.

A scam artist claiming to be Adele’s manager tried to cheat Kendrick’s label out of $250 concert tickets. Police say a man named Justin Jackson e-mailed Interscope Records claiming to be Adele’s manager. He requested three free tickets to the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami, where Kendrick was performing. Kendrick’s people promptly called Adele’s real rep and the deception was revealed.

Police arrested Jackson and his wife. It turns out Jackson has a lengthy arrest record and once impersonated Madonna’s manager.

Number 2: Ed Sheeran ” Shape Of You”

Ed Sheeran is an honest runner-up for the second straight week with “Shape Of You.” How does Ed keep sane on the road? He says he relies on 12 long-time friends to keep him grounded when fame and the rigors of touring get to be too much. In fact, he employs four of them.

Number 1: Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like”

We greet a familiar face at number one: Bruno Mars notches his seventh career Hot 100 title, as “That’s What I Like” jumps two slots.

This is the 1,063rd number one song in the chart’s 58-year history. It’s Bruno’s seventh number one single, and his first since “Uptown Funk” ruled for 14 weeks in 2015.

Can Bruno keep it going? We’ll find out in seven days!


Strange Exoplanet Bucks Planet Formation Trends

An exoplanet located 437 light years away could shed light on the different ways planets form around their stars.

HAT-P-26b, which astronomers call a “warm Neptune,” has a “primitive” atmosphere made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Its atmosphere is not cloudy and has a “strong water signature,” astronomers say.

They say the planet, which was first spotted in 2011, is like Neptune and Uranus on mass, but that HAT-P-26b probably formed closer to the star it orbits, or at some point later in the development of the system – or both.

“Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system,” said Hannah Wakeford, a post-doctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study published in the May 12, 2017, issue of Science. “This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets.”

The analysis of HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere was done using both the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes as the planet transits its star. That allows astronomers to peek into the planet’s atmosphere and analyze the light wavelengths that pass through the planet’s atmosphere.

“To have so much information about a warm Neptune is still rare, so analyzing these data sets simultaneously is an achievement in and of itself,” said co-author Tiffany Kataria of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Astronomers were also able to use that data to determine the planet’s metallicity, as a measure of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium in the atmosphere. Metallicity can be used to determine how the planet formed.

For example, Jupiter has a metallicity about two to five times that of our sun. Saturn has about 10 times as much. Astronomers say those planets, referred to as gas giants, are almost entirely composed of hydrogen and helium.

The next two planets out, Neptune and Uranus, which are called ice giants, have metallicities about 100 times that of the sun.

Astronomers say that’s because Neptune and Uranus formed on the colder part of the disk of debris that circled our sun as the planets developed. They were likely bombarded by icy debris rich in heavier elements.

Jupiter and Saturn formed in a warmer part of the disc, meaning they weren’t hit by as many of those objects.

This pattern has been observed on two other exoplanets, HAT-P-11b and WASP-43b.

HAT-P-26b does not follow that pattern because despite being relatively close to its star, it has low metallicity, similar to Jupiter.

“This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said David Sing of the University of Exeter and the second author of the paper. “I would say that has been a theme in the studies of exoplanets: Researchers keep finding surprising diversity.”


Reports Show Rise in US Inflation, Retail Sales

U.S. consumers bought more cars and hardware, and stepped up online purchases in April, after two months of sluggish sales.

Friday’s report from the Commerce Department says retail sales rose four-tenths of a percentage point in April, and sales were a bit better than first reported the previous month.

The data show even stronger growth for online retailers, while sales at traditional “bricks and mortar” stores sagged half a percentage point.

Investors and economists watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, which is the world’s largest economy.

A separate study by the Labor Department shows U.S. inflation rose 2.2 percent in the year ending in April, with a gain of two-tenths of a percent for the month. Some analysts say that makes it likely that the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates slightly at their next scheduled meeting in June.

The Federal Reserve is supposed to promote stable prices and full employment. When inflation threatens to rise a modest level, they may raise interest rates to cool economic activity and keep prices from rising so fast they disrupt economic growth.


WHO Confirms Ebola Case in DR Congo

A person has tested positive for the Ebola virus in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A spokesman for the World Health Organization says officials declared an Ebola outbreak in Bas-Uele province after laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the virus.

The spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, tells VOA English to Africa that nine people in the area fell sick with what is currently listed as hemorrhagic fever. He said three people have died.

The WHO said on its Twitter feed it is working with Congo’s Ministry of Health to contain the outbreak.

The ministry says in a statement that teams of doctors, coordinators and specialists are headed to the remote area and should arrive by Saturday.

The last Ebola outbreak in Congo happened in 2014 and killed more than 40 people.

A much larger outbreak swept across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that year and killed more than 11,000.




Syrian Refugees Earn Money, Cultivate Understanding, Teaching Arabic Online

A handful of New Yorkers have gathered at New York University to practice conversing in Arabic. Their two conversation partners have joined via Skype, video images projected side-by-side on a TV monitor.

The scene would be nothing out of the ordinary, save for the fact that the conversation partners, Ghayath and Rasha, are recently displaced Syrian refugees.

They are among some 50 refugees working with NaTakallam, a New York startup that pairs Arabic language learners, most based in the U.S., with displaced Syrians for paid, one-on-one conversation practice sessions over Skype.

NaTakallam sessions have garnered more than $110,000 for refugee instructors since launching in August 2015, according to the startup. Instructors keep $10 of the $15 paid by students for a one hour session. For the many Syrian refugees who must often start over and adjust to life in entirely new countries, the earnings supplement work that is already difficult to secure.

The idea for NaTakallam (Arabic for “we speak”) grew out of Aline Sara’s desire to improve her own Arabic speaking skills as a Lebanese-American. “The opportunities to practice Arabic were . . . kind of limited in New York, or extremely expensive for what I could afford at the time,” said the startup founder and CEO.

Typical Arabic classes also tend to teach Modern Standard Arabic, which Sara describes as “a Shakespearean version” of Arabic. “You don’t speak that way in your day-to-day activities,” she said. Conversational sessions provide the opportunity to practice regional dialects of the language. Most Syrians speak Levantine Arabic, one of the most widely understood dialects among Arabic speakers.


For instructors like Ghayath, a Syrian refugee who has resettled in Italy, the language sessions are also an opportunity for cultural exchange. “We choose to speak together about daily life, about their interests, about my life, their life … the news.”

“I always say NaTakallam is my window to the world, because I travel every day through this small screen,” he added.

Students sign on for a variety of reasons, whether they’re studying related subjects such as political science, history or journalism or are part of the Arab diaspora and hoping to improve their native language skills. Other students may be tourists preparing for a trip abroad. Ghayath assesses each student’s particular language needs and tailors lessons accordingly.

Beyond the financial independence NaTakallam offers, Sara stresses the importance of bringing awareness and understanding to refugee communities.

“We’re always talking about refugees en masse. We don’t take the time to individualize them, to humanize them. This is a direct way,” said Sara, “You’re connecting in a one-on-one setting, people get to know each other. I think it’s very powerful.”



Harry Potter Prequel, Written on a Postcard, Is Stolen

A rare Harry Potter prequel handwritten by author J.K. Rowling on a postcard was stolen during a burglary in central England, police said Friday as they appealed for help from fans of the wizard across the world.

The 800-word story, set three years before Harry Potter is born and which sold for 25,000 pounds ($32,152) at a charity auction in 2008, was stolen from a property in Birmingham between April 13-24.

Appeal to Potter fans

“Please don’t buy this if you’re offered it,” Rowling wrote on Twitter. “Originally auctioned for @englishpen, the owner supported writers’ freedoms by bidding for it.”

The proceeds of the auction were donated to English PEN, an organization that champions freedom of expression, and to Dyslexia Action.

“The only people who will buy this unique piece are true Harry Potter fans. We are appealing to anyone who sees, or is offered this item for sale, to contact police,” said Constable Paul Jauncey from West Midlands Police.

Untitled prequel

Handwritten over two sides of an A5 postcard, the untitled prequel features the characters Sirius Black and Harry’s father, James. It opens with a youthful Sirius and James cornered by two irate policemen at the end of a high-speed motorcycle chase.

After an exchange of words with the policemen, the two teenagers make their escape using a touch of magic. The card concludes with the words “From the prequel I am not working on — but that was fun!”

More than 450 million copies of the seven original Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide in 79 languages. The movie franchise has grossed more than $7 billion worldwide.


Fact Check: Trump on Tax Rates, Canada, ‘Priming the Pump’

In an interview with The Economist, President Donald Trump whiffed on a batch of economic facts. He got the Canada-U.S. trade balance wrong, misplaced the U.S. in the world ranks of tax burdens and claimed to have coined an economic phrase that’s been familiar to economists for some 80 years.

A look at some of his assertions to the magazine:

U.S. Taxes

TRUMP: “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.”

THE FACTS: Trump has repeatedly made variations on this false claim. The overall U.S. tax burden is one of the lowest among the 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26.4 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2015, according to the OECD. That’s far below Denmark’s tax burden of 46.6 percent, Britain’s 32.5 percent or Germany’s 36.9 percent. Just four OECD countries had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: South Korea, Ireland, Chile and Mexico.

Trump qualified his claim later in the interview by saying the top marginal corporate tax rate, specifically, is higher than in similar industrialized countries. That’s more or less true, although the higher rate is moderated by tax breaks not available in some of those other countries.


Trade deficit with Canada

TRUMP: “Right now the United States has … about a $15 billion trade deficit with Canada.”

THE FACTS: His numbers are upside down. The United States actually ran an $8.1 billion trade surplus with Canada last year, according to the latest numbers available from the Census Bureau. A $24.6 billion U.S. surplus with Canada in the trade of services, including tourism and software, outweighed a $16.5 billion deficit in the trade of goods, including autos and oil.

Trump, who regularly decries the loss of American manufacturing jobs, tends to emphasize trade in goods and ignore trade in services. His comment about Canada came as his administration seeks a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. last year ran a deficit of $750 billion in goods with the rest of the world but recorded a $249 billion surplus in services.

‘Prime the pump’

TRUMP: “You understand the expression ‘prime the pump’? … I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do. We have to prime the pump.”

THE FACTS: He didn’t coin that phrase. It’s a well-worn metaphor for generating faster growth, first made popular as an economic analogy more than 80 years ago during the Great Depression.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary people quickly tweeted that the phrase “priming the pump” has been around since the early 1800s. Literally, it’s about pouring water into a pump to allow it to create suction. The phrase was commonly used by mining publications during the 1920s, but it took on new significance after the economy cratered during the Depression.

By 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promoted the idea of flushing money into the economy to stimulate stronger growth with his New Deal policies. Such policies rankled Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

“One of the ideas in these spendings is to prime the economic pump,” Hoover said in a 1935 post-presidential speech. “We might abandon this idea also, for it dries up the well of enterprise.”

China and currency manipulating

TRUMP, on backing away from his campaign promise to label China a currency manipulator: “They’re actually not a currency (manipulator). You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.”

Treasury Secretary STEVE MNUCHIN, pitching in: “Right, as soon as the president got elected, they went the other way.”

THE FACTS: Trump persists in taking credit for something that happened before he even started running for president. China manipulated its currency, the yuan, lower for years before stopping in mid-2014; Trump’s presidential run began a year later.

A weak yuan helps Chinese exports because it makes them cheaper to buy. It disadvantages goods from the U.S. and other countries because they are more expensive to get in China.

Until 2005, China pegged the yuan to the dollar at a specific level. When it loosened the peg, the yuan began to rise steadily against the dollar. Worried that a strong currency would hurt their exporters, Chinese officials bought dollars to prevent the yuan from rising even faster.

The value of the yuan peaked in early 2014, as the Chinese economy slowed after years of torrid growth. The yuan then began to fall relative to the dollar, but not because Chinese officials were once again intervening to push it down. China was actually doing the opposite: selling dollars and buying yuan to prevent its currency from going into a free fall.


Old Nuclear Technology Giving Way to New Generation of Reactors

After several large-scale incidents at nuclear power plants around the globe, public pressure in some countries led to abandoning the technology. But manufacturers say the new generation reactors are much safer, and their use will dramatically lower the air pollution that causes global warming. VOA’s George Putic reports.


China to Get American Beef and Gas Under Trade Agreement

A sweeping trade agreement, ranging from banking to beef, has been reached between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. Commerce Department announced on Thursday.

“It was pretty much a Herculean accomplishment to get this done,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade.”

The breakthrough results from an agreement U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping made during their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6.

Trump “was briefed more or less every single day” as negotiations progressed since then, Ross said.

Beef imports

Following one more round of “technical consultations,” China has agreed to allow U.S. beef imports no later than July 16, consistent with international food and animal safety standards, Ross told reporters at the White House.

The United States Cattlemen’s Association applauded the agreement, saying market access to China is crucial for its members.

“Success in this arena will drive the U.S. cattle market and increase demand for U.S. beef” in China, association president Kenny Graner told VOA.

In exchange, Washington and Beijing are to resolve outstanding issues that would allow imports to the U.S. of cooked poultry from China “as soon as possible,” according to the Commerce Department.

Another significant breakthrough will see American liquefied natural gas (LNG) going to China. Under the agreement Chinese companies will be permitted “at any time to negotiate all types of contractual arrangement with U.S. LNG exporters, including long term contracts,” according to the Commerce Department.

This is “a very big change,” said Ross, noting China is trying to wean itself off coal at a time “it doesn’t produce enough natural gas to meet its needs.”

Financial, other business services

Among other action listed in the 100-Day Action Plan:

* China is to allow, by July 16, “wholly foreign-owned financial services firms” to provide credit ratings services and to begin licensing procedures for credit investigation.

* U.S.-owned suppliers of electronic payment services (EPS) will be able to apply for licensing in China under new guidelines.

* China is to issue bond underwriting and settlement licenses to two qualified U.S. financial institutions by July 16.

* China’s National Biosafety Committee is to meet by the end of this month to conduct science-based evaluations of all eight pending U.S. biotechnology product applications “to assess the safety of the products for their intended use.” Those that pass the tests are to get certificates within 20 working days.

The outcome of the joint dialogue will also see a United States delegation attending China’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing next week.

A U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue will be held this summer, according to the Commerce Department, to deepen engagement on these and other issues.

“There are probably 500 items you could potentially discuss” in the wider one-year plan for bilateral trade, Ross added.


‘Our Champion’: Bobsledder Steven Holcomb’s Life Celebrated

The sympathy cards came from places like Germany and Italy, where Steven Holcomb was their bobsled enemy. Mourners flew in from all across the country. Generations of Olympians packed a ballroom, sharing in grief.


They wept. They hugged. They laughed.


“Steven Holcomb was like no one else,” Olympic teammate Steven Langton said. “He was one of the finest to wear the red, white and blue.”


Sentiments like those came for hours Thursday in the tiny Olympic town of Lake Placid, New York, when friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of America’s most successful bobsled driver. The 37-year-old Holcomb was found dead in his sleep Saturday at the Olympic Training Center, the dorm where not only many of his teammates live but where the offices for USA Bobsled and Skeleton are housed.


“Steve was, and always will be, our champion,” said Tony Carlino, who manages the Mount Van Hoevenberg track where Holcomb dominated.


The celebration of Holcomb’s life was supposed to last an hour.


That proved impossible. Put simply, there was much to celebrate — including the 2010 Olympic four-man gold medal, which ended a 62-year drought for the U.S. in bobsled’s signature race, and a pair of bronze medals from the 2014 Sochi Games.


“I have no words to describe my sadness,” said International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President Ivo Ferriani, who called Holcomb a brother in a recorded message. “The sadness is indescribable. We need to remember Stevie for what he gave to us all. … Stevie, you will stay always with us. I will never forget you, my friend.”


For the public memorial, hundreds of people packed a ballroom at a conference center attached the same building where Lake Placid’s signature moment — the “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980 Winter Olympics — happened. Photos of Holcomb played on a loop on the electronic message board outside the arena. Local police officers shooed people away from nearby parking meters near the building, saying no one needed to worry about such things on this day.


“Steve’s one of the most passionate, humble souls I’ve ever known,” said a teary USA Bobsled head coach Brian Shimer, who considered Holcomb the younger brother he never had. “He looked you in the eyes. He engaged you. And he did that with every person who was drawn to him by his charm … and by his greatness.”

The public ceremony was preceded by a private, intimate one for family, teammates and close friends atop the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, not far from the start line and overlooking the magnificent Adirondack Mountains in the distance. His sleds were displayed on either side of the medal podium, the same one he stood atop of plenty of times in his career.

The U.S. flag — the colors he wore as an Eagle Scout, as a member of the Utah Army National Guard, and as a bobsledder — was at half-staff, rippling in the crisp breeze. Speakers read passages from Winnie The Pooh, from Dr. Seuss, from the Bible. They told stories of how he was the ultimate teammate. They told stories of how he was the ultimate jokester.


His mother, Jean Anne, wore Holcomb’s gold medal from the Vancouver Games. His father, Steve, wore one of the bronze medals from the Sochi Games. His sisters both spoke, one of them wearing his other Olympic bronze from Sochi. Many teammates wore or carried “Superman” shirts, like Holcomb used to wear under his speed suit on race days.


“He was a boy when he came here,” said Holcomb’s father, also named Steve, who thanked Lake Placid for playing such a role in his son’s life. “And he was a man when he left.”


USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele has lost count of how many times in recent days he’s been asked about how the team will go on — especially with the 2018 Pyeongchang Games looming in nine months — without Holcomb.


He doesn’t have an answer laden with specifics yet.


“As tough as it is, we have to,” Steele said, as he struggled to get the words out. “We have to continue his legacy and continue the work that he worked so hard to start. We owe it to him. We will push forward. We will find success again. He’s not the pillar of the organization any longer, but we are where we are because of Steven Holcomb.”


Dutch Inventor Years Ahead in Plan to Clean Up Massive Plastic Patch in Pacific

A Dutch entrepreneur has come up with an invention he says will allow him to start cleaning up a massive floating garbage patch in the Pacific two years ahead of schedule.

“To catch the plastic, act like plastic,” Boyan Slat said Thursday in Utrecht.

Slat’s Ocean Cleanup foundation plans to scoop up most of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a gargantuan floating island of plastic between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.

When he discovered that his original plan of attaching large barriers to the sea floor to trap the plastic would not work, Stal devised a different plan.

The barriers will instead be weighed down by floating anchors and travel in the same sea currents as the garbage, trapping it.

Slat says the new plan will allow him to start collecting the trash within a year — two years ahead of schedule.

The young entrepreneur’s system is making waves among America’s super-rich philanthropists. Last month, his foundation announced it had raised $21.7 million in donations since November, clearing the way for large-scale trials at sea. Among donors were CEO Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.


Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said much of the garbage in the world’s oceans is found throughout the water column — at different depths. That would likely put some of it out of reach of Slat’s barriers.


However she applauded The Ocean Cleanup for bringing the issue to a broad public.


“The more people are aware of it, the more they will be concerned about it,” Wallace said. “My hope is that the next step is to say `what can I do to stop it?’ and that’s where prevention comes in.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not just an ugly reminder of a throwaway human society — it is also a danger to sea life and humans. Tiny bits of plastic can find their way into the food chain.

Ocean Cleanup says 8 million tons of plastic wind up in the seas every year. One piece of plastic can take decades to break down.

Slat on Thursday brought out an intact plastic crate fished from the Pacific last year. The date 1977 was stamped on it.

Some information for this report from AP.


US Official Urges American Small Businesses to Export Abroad

The head of the U.S. Small Business Administration urged American businessmen and entrepreneurs to enter the global market, telling the United Nations on Thursday that just 1 percent of small businesses are currently exporting overseas.

Linda McMahon said the nearly 29 million small businesses in America “are the engine of our economy” and create two out of three new jobs — but she stressed that exporting is a key component of small business growth.

“Businesses that export are less likely to go out of business and more likely to grow faster,” she told the Small Business Knowledge Summit.

“That’s because 96 percent of all of the world’s consumers and over three-quarters of the world’s purchasing power are outside of the United States,” she said. “Yet right now, only 1 percent of all of America’s small businesses are exporters.”

McMahon conceded that becoming an exporter, especially for small businesses, isn’t easy.

“Small businesses are challenged by access to information, capital and barriers to market entry,” she told several hundred government and business officials and diplomats at the summit organized by the International Council for Small Business.

McMahon said the Trump administration and her agency are committed to ensuring equal access for small businesses to international markets, expanding export opportunities, and reducing or eliminating “trade and investment barriers that disproportionately impact small businesses.”

She said small businesses are hardest hit trying to finance trade deals and by compliance challenges.

“Globally over half of all declined trade finance requests to banks were submitted by small businesses,” McMahon said. “In the United States, over one-third of all of our small businesses find trade finance hard to obtain for foreign sales.”

She said the Small Business Administration works with banks to try to address this challenge and find “tailored, trade finance products” so that small businesses can finance foreign growth when the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide loans.


Feeling the Magic at Renowned Texas Park

As national parks traveler Mikah Meyer continued exploring the numerous national park sites within the vast state of Texas, he’s been overwhelmed by the beauty of Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.

Located in southwestern Texas, on the U.S. border with Mexico, the huge park is larger than Hong Kong. It’s 80 kilometers from east to west, and 200 kilometers of the Rio Grande River form its southern boundary.

Big Bend – named after a big bend in the river – was established as a national park in 1944, preserving the largest tracts of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. Mikah spent several packed days exploring the vast terrain.

Magical landscape

“I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in, but it’s just kind of this magical landscape,” Mikah observed, one that he learned has evolved greatly over time.​

“Over the past two centuries, largely due to a lot of human influence, it used to be a very different climate with grass as high as a horse’s head. And essentially through ranching, through farming, through human interaction, we as humans have taken away a lot of the natural, green growth.”

But despite its harsh desert environment, the park boasts a spectacular landscape that’s home to more than 1,200 species of plants (including 60 types of cactus), 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals.

The variety of life is largely due to the diverse ecology and changes in elevation, from the dry, hot desert, to the cool mountains, and the fertile river valley.

Flirting with fossils

Mikah’s first stop was the “incredible dinosaur exhibit” at the newly opened Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

“They had these amazingly huge fossils and did a really top-notch job at showing you the history of the area that is now Big Bend National Park that goes back a hundred million years,” he said.

“This area used to be a shallow ocean, so there were massive gators, large fish with huge teeth that were big enough to eat sharks, and they have fossils of those fish that existed in this area that’s now a desert.”

Also on display at the site is “an insane amount of dinosaur bones,” Mikah added, including a massive T-Rex skeleton and one of the largest flying reptile skeletons in the world.

“It was incredible!” Mikah marveled. “I mean, what little kid doesn’t love dinosaurs and doesn’t geek out and squeal at seeing a giant T-rex skeleton? It really puts it in perspective when you can sit in a giant alligator or T-Rex mouth that they have right on the ground at this exhibit.”

Border beauty

Visitors to Big Bend can also enjoy the many recreational opportunities on and around the Rio Grande, which forms the 1600 kilometer long international boundary between Mexico and the United States.

Mikah immersed himself in nature at Rio Grande Village, the largest campground in the park, on the banks of the Rio Grande.

“The campground is in a little bend of Big Bend National Park that dips down, so basically if I look to my left or to my right I’m looking at Mexico, but straight in front of the United States.”

“There is a little nature trail hike which is right by the campgrounds which is gorgeous and gives you stunning views of the Rio Grande River,” Mikah said.

On day two of his visit, Mikah decided to cross the river into Mexico for lunch in the small border town of Boquillas in the Mexican state of Coahuila. “It’s shallow enough that it only goes up to your knees right now,” he observed as he waded across the warm water.

Once he crossed into Mexico, Mikah headed to town — about a kilometer and a half away down a dusty path — on a horse. It trotted along at a leisurely pace, allowing Mikah to soak up the beauty of the stark desert around him. After checking in with Mexican customs, he stopped for a tasty lunch of tacos and cold drinks at Jose Falcon’s, one of the town’s two restaurants.

While lunch was satisfying, he said the highlight of his little adventure was the sweeping vista around him. “You’re on this horse, so you’re a little higher than you get to be normally, and there’s mountains everywhere and desert trees.”

More to come…

Mikah has many more adventures in Big Bend National Park to share with VOA. They include stops at some of the most remote areas of the park, a surprising canoe ride on the Rio Grande, a visit to the historic hot springs and an exhilarating hike up to the highest peak of Chisos Mountains.  

In the meantime the young traveler, who hopes to visit all 400 plus sites within the U.S. National Park Service, invites you to learn more about his journey across the American southwest by visiting his website, Facebook and Instagram.