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Containers are seen at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China.
China suspends planned Dec 15 US goods tariffs
15 December 2019, 10:02 AM

China has suspended additional tariffs on some US goods that were meant to be implemented on December 15, the State Council’s customs tariff commission said on Sunday.

The move comes after the world’s two largest economies agreed to a “phase one” trade deal on Friday.

The deal, rumours and leaks over which have gyrated world markets for months, reduces some US tariffs in exchange for what US officials said would be a big jump in Chinese purchases of American farm products and other goods.

China’s retaliatory tariffs, which were due to take effect on December 15, were meant to target goods ranging from corn and wheat to US made vehicles and auto parts.

Other Chinese tariffs that had already been implemented on US goods would be left in place, the commission said in a statement issued on the websites of government departments including China’s finance ministry.

“China hopes, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to work with the United States, to properly resolve each other’s core concerns and promote the stable development of US-China economic and trade relations,” it added.

Beijing has agreed to import at least $200 billion in additional US goods and services over the next two years on top of the amount it purchased in 2017, the top US trade negotiator said Friday.

A statement issued by the United States Trade Representative, also on Friday, said the United States would leave in place 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Activists hold a banner during a protest against climate change as the COP25 climate summit is held in Madrid.
EU leads call for stronger climate ambition
14 December 2019, 1:28 PM

The European Union warned on Saturday that a UN summit in Madrid must send a strong signal that countries are ready to do more to cut emissions, as fears grew that international efforts to fight climate change were slipping into reverse.

The two-week round of annual climate negotiations had been due to conclude on Friday, but dragged on into the weekend as delegates failed to resolve multiple disputes over implementing a climate accord forged in Paris four years ago.

Krista Mikkonen, Finland’s environment minister, speaking on behalf of the EU, told the latest session at the talks that it would be “impossible to leave” without agreeing a “strong message” on the need to redouble pledges to cut emissions next year, when the Paris deal enters a crucial implementation phase.

“This is something that the outside expects from us and we need to hear their calls,” Mikkonen said.

Countries including Nepal, Switzerland, Uruguay and the Marshall Islands echoed the call from the EU for more ambition.

Observers say that the latest draft statements drawn up by Chile, which is presiding over the summit, for consideration by delegates lack the kind of strong commitments needed to inject fresh momentum into the faltering Paris process.

“We are in the final (stage) of these negotiations and what we see thus far is that this text is completely unacceptable and it would be a betrayal of people around the world suffering from the impacts and those that are calling for action,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, told reporters.

“The Chilean presidency had one job, to protect the integrity of the Paris Agreement and not allow it to be torn apart by cynicism and greed and right now it is failing,” Morgan said, expressing mounting outrage among climate campaigners.

Morgan named the United States, which has begun the process of leaving the Paris Agreement, Japan, and Brazil as among the biggest obstacles to meaningful action.

With global emissions hitting a record high last year, countries pushing for stronger climate action say that big polluters must agree to submit more ambitious pledges next year to give the accord a fighting chance of success.

Bhutan’s Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, who chairs a bloc of Least Developed Countries, told the session he could not “face our peoples back at home” without a stronger outcome to protect the world from the worst impacts of climate change.

A Tesla logo is seen at a groundbreaking ceremony of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory in Shanghai.
US agency probes 12th Tesla crash tied to possible Autopilot use
14 December 2019, 11:15 AM

The US auto safety agency said Friday it will investigate a 12th Tesla crash that may be tied to the vehicle’s advanced Autopilot driver assistance system after a Tesla Model 3 rear-ended a parked police car in Connecticut.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration special crash investigation program will investigate the December 7 crash of a 2018 Tesla Model 3 on Interstate 95 in Norwalk, Connecticut, the agency confirmed.

Autopilot has been engaged in at least three fatal US Tesla crashes since 2016.

The agency’s special crash investigation team has inspected 12 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed Autopilot was engaged at the time of the incident.

To date, the agency has completed reports on two of them: a 2016 fatal crash in Florida in which Autopilot was engaged and a prior crash where Autopilot was ruled out as a factor.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Twitter’s algorithms and content monitoring on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Twitter plans to build ‘decentralised standard’ for social networks
12 December 2019, 9:56 AM

Twitter Inc plans to set up an independent research group to create an “open and decentralised” system for social networks, CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday, which could relieve pressure on the company to appease critics of its content policies but also give rise to a new crop of competitors.

The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, Dorsey said, and would enable individuals to use a variety of services to access the same network, just like they choose different email providers to see the same messages.

Policing speech on social media sites has required hefty investments while still failing to stem criticism from users who find the policies either too aggressive or too lax.

“Centralised enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people,” Dorsey tweeted here

He said the new approach would also allow Twitter to “focus our efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation, and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.”

The idea, as outlined in articles Dorsey shared, is that developers could use their own algorithms to offer like-minded individuals targeted access to the same social media networks.

For instance, an individual could sign up with a provider that would aggressively filter out racist material, or another that would promote conversations over other types of content.

The open standard, however, could upend Twitter’s business model in the process, giving rise to competitor services that offer filters, content suggestions or other tools that prove more popular with consumers.

In an article that Dorsey shared called “Protocols, Not Platforms,” tech news site Techdirt founder Mike Masnick outlined how an open standard could give rise to a “competition for business models” among developers.

Some providers might collect less user data for ads, while others might abandon advertising altogether, instead charging users for access to premium services like filters or data storage, Masnick wrote.

Dorsey said Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, will be in charge of hiring a lead for the research team, called BlueSky. Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it, he said.

He went on to suggest that blockchain technology might provide a model for decentralising content hosting, oversight and even monetisation of social media, without elaborating on possible alternatives to Twitter’s ads-driven business.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
House Democrats prepare for impeachment vote
12 December 2019, 5:52 AM

Democrats in the US House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week.

The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.

“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks.

But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it.

“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.

“The president was the first and best witness in this case. The president admitted to his wrongdoing and corrupt intent on national television,” Jayapal said. “The president is the smoking gun.”

Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.

“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.

Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.

“They don’t like us – that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponise the government.”

The committee is expected to approve the charges sometime on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House is likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.

Following the House vote, charges will go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.

QUICK TRIAL?

On Wednesday, the president and senior Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the idea of a shorter proceeding in that chamber.

After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Senate, Trump seemed to be leaning toward a streamlined affair that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.

But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.

“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.

Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”

Democrats say Trump endangered the US Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.

The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.

Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.

Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.

If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members.

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