United States and China say they’re ‘committed to cooperating’ to tackle the climate crisis



The world’s top two economies together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

The United States and China are “committed to cooperating” on the pressing issue of climate change, the two sides have said in a joint statement, following a visit to Shanghai by US climate envoy John Kerry.

“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” said the statement from Kerry and China’s special envoy for climate change Xie Zhenhua.

Mr Kerry, the former US secretary of state, was the first official from President Joe Biden’s administration to visit China, signalling hopes the two sides could work together on the global challenge despite sky-high tensions on multiple other fronts.

The joint statement listed multiple avenues of cooperation between the United States and China, the world’s top two economies which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

It stressed “enhancing their respective actions and cooperating in multilateral processes, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement”.

Mr Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.

The US president has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, which Mr Kerry negotiated when he was secretary of state and committed nations to taking action to keep temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

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United States issues guidelines to encourage more interaction with Taiwan


FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the State Department in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 31, 2021. Carolyn Kaster/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

April 9, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Friday it had issued new guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan.

“These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in statement. The aim, he said, was “to encourage U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.”

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Impact of internal states on learning — ScienceDaily


We’ve all heard the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh finds that it isn’t all about repetition. Rather, internal states like engagement can also have an impact on learning.

The collaborative research, published in Nature Neuroscience, examined how changes in internal states, such as arousal, attention, motivation, and engagement can affect the learning process using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Findings suggest that changes in internal states can systematically influence how behavior improves with learning, thus paving the way for more effective methods to teach people skills quickly, and to a higher level of proficiency.

Using a BCI learning paradigm, the researchers observed how neural activity changed, and the degree to which these changes were influenced by shifts in internal states, as subjects performed tasks by moving a cursor on a computer screen using only patterns of neural activity.

As the study unfolded, the team began to notice occasional large, abrupt fluctuations in neural population activity within the motor cortex. At first, they did not understand why this was happening, but over time, they came to realize that the fluctuations happened whenever the subject was surprised with a change in the task. (Changes ranged from brief pauses to perturbations of the BCI mapping.) At these moments, the subjects’ pupils dilated, suggesting that the abrupt fluctuation was the neural manifestation of an internal state, engagement.

“We weren’t looking for this particular effect in the neural data,” says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Neuroscience Institute. “The pupil diameter was tightly correlated with the engagement signal that we saw in the neural activity, and it seems to have a massive effect in the motor cortex.”

Ultimately, the research suggests that subjects’ level of engagement or attention can make things easier or harder to learn, depending on the context.

“You might have imagined that the brain would be set up with a clear segregation of functions, like motor areas to motor control, and emotional areas to emotional control, and sensory areas to sensory representation,” says Aaron Batista, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “What we’re finding is a serendipitous kind of intrusion of an internal state into a motor area. It could be that we can harness that signal to improve learning.”

The group’s work is ongoing and done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution’s strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior.

“One of the unique parts of our collaboration is how integrated we all have been throughout the entire project, from experimental design, to experimental conduction, to data analyses, and adopting; we’re all involved in all parts of that,” says Byron Yu, professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “The findings here might one day help people learn everyday skills, such as math or dance, more quickly and to a higher level of proficiency.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University. Original written by Sara Vaccar. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Jobless data – Why jobless-claims data give little insight into America’s economy | United States


IN THE PAST year pundits have closely tracked America’s “jobless claims” data, published every Thursday by the Department of Labour to show how many people are newly claiming unemployment insurance (UI). These data once provided invaluable insights: in 1995 Alan Greenspan, then chair of the Federal Reserve, personally intervened to ensure that they continued to be produced during a government shutdown. Yet in the current crisis more people are starting to realise their limitations.

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Somebody seeking UI benefits must file a claim with a state employment office. The claims data were useful early in the pandemic. They are published with a lag of only a few days, so gave an insight into the economic collapse of last March and April long before the monthly jobs report. In those two months claims data suggested that about 30m Americans had filed for UI—in line with later figures on job losses from the Bureau of Labour Statistics.

Yet in the past year more than 80m applications have been filed for state UI. Were all applications unique, the data would imply that 50% of American workers had lost their pre-pandemic job. Really? About 20m Americans remain on some form of UI, twice the number officially classified as unemployed. Initial claims for state UI have fallen from the heights of last spring, but even now over 700,000 claims are being filed each week, more than at the height of the financial crisis of 2007-09.

It is possible the claims data reveal that America’s labour market is doing far worse than other statistics show. More likely, the data themselves are flawed.

Why? Early in the crisis wonks warned that initial-claims data would run high long after actual job losses had fallen, because state UI offices were catching up on backlogged applications. A paper last year from the Federal Reserve said “errant claim duplication” may inflate official tallies. Some state offices have made it easier for people working reduced hours—rather than not at all—to claim UI. The government has also allowed more people, including the self-employed and gig-economy workers, to be eligible for payments. Another source of distortion could be widespread fraud.

No one knows the biggest reason why claims are so absurdly high. But this much is clear: to get the measure of America’s labour market, look elsewhere.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Wild claims”

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Fashion police – A new dress code means Rhode Island lawmakers have to suit up | United States


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Software and the state – Despite high-profile failures, government tech is slowly improving | United States


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From megachurches to haunted houses – The waning of the black church | United States


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Queensland’s toolbox murders: How an ‘innocent’ text led to one of the state’s most ‘sadistic’ crimes


WARNING: This story contains graphic details

Two people were tied up, tortured for hours, then locked inside a 2-metre metal toolbox, before being plunged into the depths of a murky Logan dam, south of Brisbane  — where they would remain for 18 days. 

The pair screamed and begged for their lives until they finally died in a “cold watery grave”.

This week, after five years, two full trials, and several other lengthy court proceedings, everyone who played a role in the murders of Iuliana Triscaru and Cory Breton, learned their punishment

In 2016, desperate relatives of Ms Triscaru, 31, and Mr Breton, 28, made an appeal to the public, pleading for help to find their loved ones who had not been seen since January 24.

Less than a week later, police divers found their decomposing bodies inside a locked toolbox in Scrubby Creek.

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Can states criticise Central law?


SC on Friday sought to know from a petitioner whether the state legislatures have the right to express their opinion or not on central laws

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought to know from a petitioner-NGO whether the state legislatures have the right to express their opinion or not on central laws and asked it to do some more research on the subject.

The top court was hearing a PIL filed by an NGO challenging legislative competence of different State Assemblies in passing resolutions against central laws like the Citizenship Amendments Act (CAA) and the three farm laws saying it falls under the Union List of the Seventh Schedule.

 

The NGO has made the Centre and the Speakers of the Legislative Assemblies of Punjab, Rajasthan, Kerala and West Bengal party in the petition, saying the apex court is already seized of multiple petitions challenging these laws passed by Parliament.

A bench of Chief Justice Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubr-amanian adjourned the hearing on the PIL after four weeks while observing, “We don’t want to create more problems than resolving the issue. We will see.”

During the hearing, senior advocate Soumya Chakraborty, appearing for NGO Samata Andolan Samiti said that the state Assemblies are incompetent to pass such resolutions against the central legislations.

 

The bench asked the council to show the resolutions he was objecting to.

Referring to CAA law and the Kerala Assembly resolution, Chakraborty said the state legislature said that central law was against the basic structure of the Constitution. “This is the opinion of majority of Kerala Assem-bly and this may not have the force of law. This is just an opinion. They have simply requested the Centre and sought repeal of the law. Do they have no right to express their opinion? They have not asked the people to disobey the Central law,” the bench observed.

end-of

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The United States and India – Joe Biden’s passage to India | United States


AS AN INDISPENSABLE fan of George W. Bush’s approach to India, Joe Biden, the then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his “dream” was that by “2020 the two closest nations in the world will be India and United States.” For much of the intervening time they have looked more like two English-speaking nations separated by a strategic partnership.

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Mr Bush’s approach to India, which involved bringing its nuclear industry into the global fold, among other opportunities for co-operation, was based on its future potential to balance China, not its feebler present. Yet he often seemed to confuse the two. “The classic opportunity for our American farmers and entrepreneurs and small businesses…is there is a 300m-person market of middle-class citizens here in India!” he marvelled. It is a sentence that, 16 years on, still exaggerates the number of Indian consumers and their government’s willingness to let foreign firms near them.

Indian reticence has been a more serious speed-brake. Politically fractious and preternaturally suspicious of self-interested foreigners, India does not want to be part of anyone’s strategic calculations. It took Mr Bush’s counterpart, Manmohan Singh, a year and a confidence vote to get the nuclear component—a geopolitical gift-horse—through parliament. The last of four “foundational” defence agreements, precursors to the enhanced military and intelligence ties Mr Bush envisaged, was signed last October.

Yet notwithstanding the hobbling effects of these differences, rising concern about China on both sides has driven pretty steady progress. Barack Obama set aside concerns about Narendra Modi’s association with communal bloodshed to work with him on climate change, while dismantling barriers to military and other technology transfer. Donald Trump set the relationship into reverse on trade, immigration and education ties, yet pushed defence and intelligence ties even harder. India’s increasingly public receptiveness to that approach was apparent after America provided it with intelligence and cold-weather gear during clashes between Indian and Chinese border guards last year.

America has done less for some of its allies, a status India still recoils from, yet increasingly enjoys the benefits of. The inaugural summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a grouping of America, Australia, India and Japan, held on March 12th, illustrated this. It also highlighted the opportunity Mr Biden will have to deepen the relationship, and how he means to try.

Formed in 2004 to manage disaster relief after a tsunami, the “Quad” was repurposed by Dick Cheney as a military club, then abandoned in 2010 because Australia and India considered it too antagonistic to China. After years of creeping Chinese aggression, that is less of a worry in both countries, hence the Trump administration—to its credit—revived the group in 2017. It has since held ministerial meetings, and a joint naval exercise in 2020, before last week’s meeting signalled Mr Biden’s bigger plans for it.

The Trump administration toyed with an idea that the Quad might develop into an Asian NATO, underlining its emphasis upon security co-operation. By contrast, reviving American outreach on trade, immigration, public health, climate change and so forth is Mr Biden’s goal. The fact that the Quad summit concluded with the adoption of the group’s most concrete agenda since the tsunami, a plan to boost vaccine production and supplies for the region, was indicative of that. The idea is for America, Japan and Australia to provide cash to help India, which already makes 60% of the world’s vaccines, amp up production.

How much this might bother China, which once criticised the group as mere “sea-froth”, is open to question. Yet it suggests the Biden administration is serious about its stated intention to counter China through alliances, based on shared values, and that it sees the Quad and India as central to that. The group’s loose, voluntary design and adoption of an agenda that downplays China, while promoting Indian capability, also looks well-designed to bind India in. It caters to the country’s past insecurities and current ambitions, a useful combination.

The administration has similar plans for the bilateral relationship. It means to sustain the momentum its predecessor set on security: Lloyd Austin, the defence secretary, will visit Delhi this week. And it believes the Trump administration’s neglect of other sorts of co-operation provides a chance to make eye-catching progress. Mr Biden has already scrapped a Trump effort to restrict the number of foreign—including Indian—students.

This will not all go smoothly: the broadening of the relationship will uncover as much residual tension as opportunity. India is unlikely to become less protectionist even if America does. The recent defence co-operation is belied by India’s unimpressive efforts to modernise its antiquated forces and attachment to cheap Russian kit. Its scheduled receipt of a Russian air-defence system later this year, for which it will be liable for American sanctions, is already causing headaches. A new report by the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, suggests such frictions could induce an American rethink: “A chorus of voices in Washington…have begun more vocally expressing anxieties about whether the value and sustainability of US engagement with India has been oversold.”

Sino the times

There is little doubt that the relationship has been oversold in the past—including by Mr Biden. Yet his administration’s early work on it has provided a context in which the inevitable frictions should be understood. In Tony Blinken at the State Department and Jake Sullivan at the National Security Council, as well as Mr Biden himself, the administration already has more experience of dealing with India than any of its predecessors. And it has made elevating US-India relations central to its plans. As China looms ever larger for both countries, the relationship has never looked more important or robust.

See also: We are tracking the Biden administration’s progress in its first 100 days

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Joe Biden’s passage to India”

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