Why Vietnam’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Won’t Be Like California’s

Vietnam’s financial hub is setting aside land to develop what locals call a new “Silicon Valley,” a reference to the area of California where a lot of new technology is developed, but with not-so-California characteristics, such as state planning and a lack of venture capital. The Home Affairs Department of Ho Chi Minh City filed a plan this month to the city’s Communist Party committee for merging three districts into a single zone for development as a tech center, domestic media outlet VnExpress International says. The plan followed a meeting May 8 between city officials and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the news outlet says.   City leaders had begun in 2017 planning a 22,000-hectare (54,300-acre) zone to monetize scientific and technical research, the news outlet says. More than 1 million people already live along the flat swathe of land along the Saigon River. The zone will appeal foremost to internet and software developers, including an estimated 40 financial technology firms, as well as their employees who hope to live near work, analysts on the ground say. The zone is taking shape as tech-educated Vietnamese in their 20s start companies. “Vietnamese are very entrepreneurial,” said Jack Nguyen, a partner at the business advisory firm Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City. “They see something work in other countries, or in the U.S., they’ll give it a shot here in Vietnam.” Vietnamese entrepreneurs, some educated overseas, are taking advantage of a largely “mobile” culture in the Southeast Asian country as well as low-paid local engineers to build up their bases in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen added.   Ho Chi Minh City’s tech zone includes a slice of its financial center, modern apartment tracts and a nearby polytechnic university. Those perks should make the zone more attractive for techies, said Phuong Hong, a native of the city who lives in the zone.   “These three districts have the level of living, and transportation is also very, very convenient,” she said, referring to the three administrative tracts to be merged. Tech workers are likely to take advantage of that convenience, said Frederick Burke, Ho Chi Minh City-based partner with the law firm Baker McKenzie.    “The fact that they give extra incentives to locate there creates an ecosystem where some employees live in the neighborhood,” Burke said. “Therefore, an engineer can jump from one job to another more easily.”   Central government leaders have tried over the past decade to steer Vietnam’s export-led economy Electricity needs are rising as Vietnam’s economy grows, adding challenges for the state power utility, EVN, as it tries to balance free markets and central planning. (Ha Nguyen/VOA)National-level and city government planning will probably lead the tech zone’s formation – a key difference compared to the more organic development of Silicon Valley of California – analysts say. “What we’ll likely see as key differences between the two is the Ho Chi Minh City project will be a cluster that heavily recruits global and regional companies and (where) entrepreneurial behaviors are likely commissioned by the government, whereas Silicon Valley is more locally grown and has been driven by industry trends and technology innovations,” said Lam Nguyen, managing director with the tech market research firm IDC Indochina in Ho Chi Minh City.  State planning to date has offered internet bandwidth. Growth of the zone will require local officials to build out infrastructure, the IDC managing director said. The zone will need tax incentives, better business licensing processes and ideal locations to draw newcomers, he added.   Tech investors will favor Vietnam’s relatively lower costs, Lam Nguyen said. Vietnam’s tech zone will face a lack of venture capital, buyouts and failures followed by restarts, country observers say. A lot of startup founders have ideas but lack capital, Jack Nguyen said. They look overseas for funding, he said. The area south of San Francisco known as “Silicon Valley” first became a hub of technology development in the 1950s, when a dean of Stanford University’s engineering school encouraged faculty members to start their own companies. Silicon Valley output has been estimated at an unusually high $275 billion per year and it’s one of the most expensive parts of the United States. 

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From Suicidal to Hopeful: Inside Afghanistan’s Mental Health Crisis 

Farhad Karimi’s eyes fill with tears as he recalls the events of August 1, 2017. It was a warm Tuesday evening and he was attending prayers in the Jawadia mosque in Herat, Afghanistan, along with his 18-year-old brother and a college friend. Suddenly, a large explosion forced him to the ground.    The hall of the Shi’ite mosque filled with blood. That day, the attack claimed by the Islamic State killed 33 people, wounding 65. Karimi’s brother and his classmate were among the dead.   Ever since, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts have become part of his life. Unable to cope with the trauma, he ended his studies for a medical degree and abandoned his business. For Karimi, now 26, life lost its purpose.   “Before the incident we had a private business, we imported carpets and kitchen supplies from Iran and sold them in Herat. The attack changed my life. I lost everything,” says Karimi. “I continued having nightmares about my brother, as the attack occurred in front of my eyes. I saw everything that happened.”   Decades of war and conflict have had a devastating effect on Afghanistan’s population. According to the international rights group Human Rights Watch, half of Afghans have experienced anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.  FILE – Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital after a bus was hit by a roadside bomb in Herat province, western Afghanistan, July 31, 2019.A 2018 survey by the European Union concluded that 85% of the population have experienced or witnessed at least one traumatic event and half of the respondents experienced psychological distress. In a 2019 World Happiness Report, Afghanistan ranked as the third saddest country.    Yet, the government spends only about $0.26 per capita on mental health services. According to the 2019–2023 National Mental Health Strategy, less than 10% of the population access mental health services and there is only one psychosocial councillor for every 46,000 people.   Officials from the ministry of health did not respond to requests for a comment.    The lack of training available to mental health professionals further impedes the ability of Afghans to receive support. Other factors include the public’s poor awareness of mental health issues, stigma related to accessing mental health services, as well as poverty, exclusion and the ongoing conflict.   “The majority of our patients suffer from PTSD,” says Dr. Nasir Ahmad Alawi, psychiatrist at the regional hospital in Herat, which currently has 25 beds in the psychiatric ward. “We do what we can, but we don’t have enough resources. There are three million people in Herat province and we only have three counsellors.”    After multiple failed suicide attempts, Karimi decided to begin therapy and was diagnosed with PTSD. With the help of his therapist, Dr. Waheed Noorzad, he gradually managed to rebuild his life and after two-and-a-half years resumed his studies.    Encouraged by Dr. Noorzad, Karimi got involved in the work of Peace of Mind Afghanistan, a local NGO that focuses on increasing mental health awareness in the country. He soon became the head of the initiative.    “A job or a hobby is very important for everyone who attends therapy. I not only try to improve my patients’ mental wellbeing, but also support them in their lives,” says Dr Noorzad. “Some of the biggest problems of Afghans are economic so we try to help people find a job, sometimes even meet their families.”   Together with Dr. Noorzad, Karimi has been supporting those with similar experiences to his own. At a groups therapy run by the clinic, he met Ahmad Shah Rahimi, 20, who has also suffered from PTSD.    At the age of six, Rahimi saw his father being killed in revenge for an alleged insult that had taken place years earlier. It was a sunny day and the family was just returning from a picnic. Several years later, his mother died of cancer.    Rahimi and his three little brothers moved in with their maternal grandfather. While Rahimi should financially support the family as the oldest grandson, he was born with a severe visual impairment that prevents him from working at most jobs. Loneliness and a sense of failure have accompanied him most of his life.     After several suicide attempts, he decided to look for help and ended up in Dr. Noorzad’s therapy. He slowly began to open up and joined group sessions, where he met people who have been through similar experiences. His last suicide attempt was more than a year ago.    “Before I started the therapy, I had recurring nightmares because of my father’s killing, I heard terrible sounds at night and I felt extremely lonely,” says Rahimi holding Karimi’s hand. “The therapy has helped me a lot.”   But such success stories are rare. Most Afghans cannot afford pharmacological treatment, which usually accompanies therapy, as it is costly and can often take years. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak some six million Afghans have lost their jobs. Eighty percent of society now lives below the poverty line. The pandemic has been a heavy burden on the cash strapped Afghan health care system and mental services are not a priority.    “Because of the coronavirus, we have more patients with anxiety disorders, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The pandemic is bolstering these issues,” says Dr. Alawi. “But we are unable to help everyone who needs support. People cannot afford treatment.”     

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NASA, SpaceX Set to Launch First Crewed Mission

NASA and SpaceX are set to launch a crewed mission Wednesday to the International Space Station from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011. Two NASA astronauts will be on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in what is the final part of the testing phase of NASA’s work with private companies to return to launching Americans into space. Since the retirement of the space shuttle program, NASA has relied on partnering with the Russian space agency in order to send U.S. astronauts to the ISS. U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Wednesday’s launch. There were concerns earlier this week that weather could interfere, but the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron said Tuesday that prospects seemed to be improving, and that there was a 60% chance of favorable conditions. If the launch is unable to go forward Wednesday, NASA and SpaceX would try again Saturday. A Wednesday launch would put the spacecraft on schedule for a Thursday docking at the International Space Station around noon Washington time.  The crew includes Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. NASA’s aim is to have a cost-effective and safe system to send crews to space.  Boeing also has a spacecraft in the testing phase for crewed missions.  For cargo deliveries, both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman have sent multiple spacecraft to the ISS in recent years. NASA said the mission “will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations.” 

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NASA Launch Marks New Era in Space Travel

When NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, few thought it would take more than eight years for U.S. astronauts to launch back into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, hopes ride high on a new “space race” of privately developed launch systems ushering in a new era of U.S. space exploration.Camera: Kane Farabaugh, Elizabeth Lee  

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SpaceX Launch Marks New Era in Space Travel

Even by using the tools at his disposal at the Adler Planetarium situated along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Director of Astronomy Geza Gyuk acknowledges there is a limit to what he can see and do in understanding the cosmos.“We’ve got a 24-inch telescope in the back of the Adler. It’s not a great place to do observing because of all the light pollution from Chicago,” he explained to VOA in an interview via Skype.Gyuk said he and many other astronomers around the world depend on experiments and equipment — like the Hubble Telescope — deployed by astronauts above Earth’s atmosphere to help them not only “see” the cosmos in new and different ways, but also to see the Earth from above.The independent ability to launch crews into space to perform work and experiments is an important job that has been limited since the space shuttle era ended. Gyuk said he will be glued to his computer monitor this week when astronauts once again launch from the U.S. Space Coast in Florida.“I will look at one of the livestreams and enjoy the spectacle,” he said.When space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Cape Canaveral July 21, 2011, few thought it would take more than eight years for astronauts to launch back into orbit from U.S. soil. The only way to the International Space Station (ISS) and back since that time has been via Russian rockets and capsules launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.Now, when astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lift off, reach orbit and rendezvous with the ISS, they mark an historic milestone in the U.S. space program in a system partially funded — but not produced — by Jim Bridenstine’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Commercial Crew Program. The SpaceX Falcon 9, with Dragon crew capsule, is serviced on Launch Pad 39-A, May 26, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.“NASA is not going to purchase, own or operate the hardware,” Bridenstine explained at a news conference at Kennedy Space Center several weeks ahead of the launch.  “In fact, we’re going to be a customer. We’re going to buy a service.” That service and hardware for this mission — a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft — is supplied by Space X, the first of several private companies in the new “space race” to regularly launch passengers commercially into Earth orbit. To date, Space X has launched 22 Crew Dragon missions without a crew, 21 of them as tests or supply runs to the ISS. But the mission dubbed “Space X Demo-2” is the first with passengers and comes while the world is coping with the spread of the coronavirus. The U.S. currently has the highest number of infections. “We’ve been in, for intents and purposes now, a quarantine since about March 15,” Hurley said to reporters in a preflight news conference. “We’ve been in quarantine probably longer than any other space crew has been in the history of the space program.” While Hurley and Behnken begin a mission that ushers in a new era of space flight, astronomer Gyuk points out it is also cheaper. “A shuttle launch was about half a billion dollars,” he explained to VOA.  While the space shuttle could carry up to eight astronauts, it usually carried five to seven crew members. “A partially reusable Space X is expected to be around 50 million” per crew member, with the Dragon capsule eventually able to support up to seven passengers. “The cheaper access is to space, the better. Cheaper launches mean more opportunity for us,” Gyuk said. Retired space shuttle astronaut Nicole Stott, who is participating in National Geographic’s “Launch America” live global coverage of the Demo-2 blastoff, says it won’t just be astronauts like her using the up-and-coming commercial systems, which also include Boeing’s Starliner. “I think the business model for any of these companies that are working right now in partnership with NASA, the business model is going to depend on them having business outside of just NASA astronauts flying on these spacecraft,” Stott explained to VOA during a recent Skype interview. “That partnership allows NASA to facilitate new companies getting into the space business and will allow NASA to continue to do the work that will take us even further off the planet.” “That’s really exciting, because that means the company — Space X — can also sell the seats to other people, like, maybe someday, me, if I want to go into space,” Guyk said. “I just find that really exciting, because it’s going to open up space to everyone eventually.” While commercial companies focus on transporting space travelers into Earth orbit and to the ISS, NASA has not abandoned developing its own space launch and crew system.  The agency is currently testing a next-generation rocket and “Orion” capsule as part of its “Artemis” program that will return astronauts — including the first woman — to the moon by 2024, with the ultimate goal of reaching Mars. Elizabeth Lee contributed to this report.

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WSJ: Amazon in Advanced Talks to Buy Self-Driving Startup Zoox

Amazon.com Inc is in advanced talks to buy self-driving startup Zoox Inc, in a move that would expand the e-commerce giant’s reach in autonomous-vehicle technology, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.The deal will value Zoox at less than the $3.2 billion it achieved in a funding round in 2018, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.An agreement may be weeks away and the discussions could still fall apart, the report added.Amazon has stepped up its investment in the car sector, participating in a $530 million funding round early last year in self-driving car startup Aurora Innovation Inc.Both Amazon and Zoox declined a Reuters request for comment. 
 

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Judge Strikes Down US Energy Leasing Rules in Bird Habitat

A U.S. judge has dealt another blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to increase domestic oil and gas output from public lands, saying officials failed to protect habitat for a declining bird species when it issued energy leases on hundreds of square miles. Judge Brian Morris said the Interior Department did not do enough to encourage development outside of areas with greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird whose numbers have dropped dramatically in recent decades. The judge canceled energy leases on more than 470 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of public land in the western states of Montana and Wyoming. That means officials will have to return millions of dollars in sales proceeds to companies that purchased the leases. The leases at issue already had been invalidated in previous cases that went through other federal courts. But the latest ruling, handed down Friday, appears to go further and strike at a key component of the administration’s broader energy policy. “The errors here occurred at the beginning of the oil and gas lease sale process, infecting everything that followed,” Morris wrote.  Megan Crandall, a spokesperson for Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, said Tuesday that the agency stands behind the leasing guidelines it issued in 2018.  “We assert that all of our lease sales are on sound legal footing and in full compliance” with federal environmental law, she said. FILE – Workers drill an oil well within sight of houses against a Rocky Mountain backdrop near Longmont, Colorado, October 14, 2014.Sage grouse range across about 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) in parts of 11 Western U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Their numbers have plummeted due to energy development, disease and other factors. The birds are known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males fan their tails and puff out yellow air sacs in their chests as they strut around breeding grounds known as leks. Under former President Barack Obama, the Interior Department delayed lease sales on millions of acres of public land largely because of worries that intensive development could harm sage grouse. In 2015, it adopted a set of wide-ranging plans meant to protect the best grouse habitat and keep the bird off the threatened and endangered species list. After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the agency modified those plans to ease restrictions on development, which meant officials no longer had to prioritize development outside grouse habitat. The changes prompted a 2018 lawsuit from Montana Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups. Mike Freeman, an attorney for the environmental groups, said the case has exposed a flaw in the Trump administration’s policies that could affect more than a million acres of leases in addition to those covered by the ruling, including in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. “We’re challenging the entire national policy,” Freeman said. “There were many other lease sales where it’s been applied, and those lease sales have the exact same legal flaws.” The states of Wyoming and Montana and the Western Energy Alliance, an energy industry group, had intervened in the case on the side of the Trump administration.  Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma noted that some of the cancelled leases had been sold before the Trump administration’s policies went into full effect. She predicted the judge’s ruling would be overturned on appeal. “I like our chances of success,” Sgamma said. “The bottom line is a new administration has the ability to change policies as long as they do it properly, and the Trump administration has done it properly.”  

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