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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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April 5

The Boston Herald on deadly chemical attack in Syria:

So where do you suppose President Trump's "red line" is in Syria?

What is believed to be the worst chemical weapons attack since 2013 has claimed at least 58 lives, including those of 11 children, according to a British-based human rights group. The heart-wrenching photos are pouring in and that death toll is likely to rise.

The chemical assault on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun was followed by an airstrike on a small field hospital that was treating survivors.

The Trump White House has thus far brought out an arsenal of words — most of them focused on the admittedly feckless Obama administration.

"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution," the president said in a statement issued yesterday. "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing." And that, of course, begs the question — what will President Trump do differently?

The policies of the Obama administration during the six-year civil war failed to provide any measure of safety for civilian populations and are in large part responsible for the flood of Syrian refugees who escaped into Europe. That was indeed on Obama's watch.

But there's only so much you can blame on the last guy in the Oval Office. What is happening now is on Donald Trump and his thus-far utterly unimpressive secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

As recently as last Thursday, Tillerson's message to the international community was: "The longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."

As if! Yesterday a "senior U.S. State Department official" briefing reporters said the chemical attack if confirmed would be "clearly a war crime."

So is the United States prepared to allow a war criminal to rule in Syria?

Online:

https://www.bostonherald.com

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April 4

The San Francisco Chronicle on U.S. relations with China:

Normally it's better to skip the buildup and measure the outcome when a White House occupant meets a powerful foreign leader. Hype gets in the way of results.

But this week's two-day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping with President Trump at his Florida country club bears contemplating in advance. The careful and all-powerful Chinese leader will be sitting down with a U.S. leader who is nothing like him.

It's more than a faraway diplomatic parley. California, more than any other state, has a special reason to tune in given its ports, industries and population closely linked to China.

There's a shopping list of topics that both sides are likely to discuss such as trade and North Korea. Xi is a defensive nationalist who wants to recharge his country's faltering economy, and is unwilling to play tough cop on North Korea's dangerous nuclear buildup, which isn't aimed at him.

To judge from past statements, Trump is heading in the opposite direction. He repeatedly slammed Beijing as a currency manipulator and unfair trader in his presidential run. Having dumped a promising Asian trade alliance, Trump needs to come up with a better idea. The president is also demanding that China tamp down North Korea's warlike ways or he may take independent action.

On climate change, Trump is ceding global leadership to Beijing by opposing domestic emission rules and indicating he may pull out of the Paris accord, which pledged to roll back heat-trapping gases. China hasn't yet veered from its Paris promises.

California should focus on this get-together. This state is a jumping off point for hundreds of billions in import-export business. Both Silicon Valley and Hollywood have stakes in China's domestic policies that include social media firewalls that censor Internet traffic and flagrant copyright abuse. The largest Chinese American community outside of Asia is split between this state and New York.

There are other topics the two leaders should get to. China's human rights record is worsening under the autocratic Xi. But Trump has shown little interest in the topic. Also, China's military buildup in the South China Sea, including the creation of a naval base on a tiny atoll, is a clear challenge to U.S. guarantees of open seas. In addition, though Russia hackers are a front burner topic in Washington, China has its own government-directed teams probing this country's business and government tech systems.

Trump's own unscripted style will be on display. He abruptly cut off a phone call with Australia's leader when the topic touched on immigration. He famously avoided shaking hands with German leader Angela Merkel, unsettling her about his nature.

Relations between the U.S. and China are far-ranging and complicated. They won't be improved by dodging serious topics or dismissing them with tweets. It will be Trump's job to show substance and thought, not impulsiveness, with Xi.

Online:

https://www.sfchronicle.com

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April 4

The Denver Post on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch:

Even before fortune smiled on Neil Gorsuch, when he remained but a possible pick to the Supreme Court and not the nominee, we argued for his candidacy. No doubt, the fact that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge is a native Coloradan — and a double black diamond skier, to boot — has played an outsized role in our support. The highest court in the land could use a Coloradan.

Such well-meaning provincialism aside, we have sincerely argued for his many other fine qualities that have more to do with the job he would be assuming. Gorsuch is a fine legal mind of sound and agreeable temperament with a mainstream appellate record. Trump could've done a lot worse. A raft of legal professionals in our state from both sides of the political spectrum have come out convincingly in singing his praises. While we don't agree with all of his opinions, we're willing to look past that and would trust him with the car keys.

All that said, we would be willing to lose this incredible opportunity if it meant stopping the significant and dangerous rule change in the Senate that Republicans are threatening. Forever ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees would launch the chamber on a journey destined to stoke partisanship and gridlock in Congress that reasonable people are and should be sick to death of.

Sure, the longtime Senate filibuster rule isn't in the Constitution. Neither is any requirement as to the number of judges on the court. But the filibuster has kept the Senate a more deliberative body. Ending it now risks further erosion of our system of checks and balances.

Senate Democrats ought to stop their foolish revenge plot now. They and their allies have made it resoundingly clear that there is no Trump nominee the party would support. We doubt Gandhi would be good enough. While their overzealous resistance speaks volumes about the president's abilities in coalition-building, it also will leave Democrats with little ground to stand on for future claims of bipartisanship and statesmanship.

This week we have supported Colorado's senior senator, Michael Bennet, for opposing the ill-conceived filibuster his party has nevertheless officially embraced. Yes, critics argue Bennet is late to the big show, and call his tardy commitment to statesmanship evidence of spinelessness. We agree he should have been active on the question sooner, but resist the idea his stance this week is merely political cover. If you don't buy that, remember to tell the campaign aides the senator hires to ward off the Bernie Sanders wannabes who line up to primary him six years hence.

Republicans, meanwhile, ought to do right by Senate tradition and the nation and step away from their rule change.

Democrats were wrong in 2013 when they ended the filibuster for lesser judicial nominees. Republicans were wrong to block President Barack Obama's pick of Merrick Garland even from consideration all last year.

Both sides are getting awfully lame with their extremism.

Better to have an eight-member high court until cooler heads prevail.

Online:

http://www.denverpost.com

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April 3

The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbum on Trump's policy implementation ability:

Uncertainty over U.S. President Donald Trump's ability to implement his policies has grown further.

The repealing of the U.S. health insurance system, known colloquially as Obamacare, which Trump had touted as one of his campaign pledges, has foundered.

The Republican Party, the force that supports Trump, has been divided over a bill to replace the health care system. Despite the party having a majority in the House of Representatives, prospects for the bill's passage were dim, leading Republicans to give up taking a vote on the bill on the House floor. This was a blunder putting off a vote on a key policy.

The president is not authorized to submit a budget or other bills to Congress. The president is required to make approaches to Congress for the passage of these bills and make efforts to win support from a wide range of legislators on them. It can hardly be deniable that Trump, who had no political experience, underestimated such a reality and neglected to coordinate views with Congress.

Obamacare was enshrined into law under the previous administration led by President Barack Obama. In order to reduce the number of uninsured people, which was estimated to total as many as about 50 million, the government and other entities grant subsidies, while making it mandatory for people to be covered by the health care plan. Even those who had been denied coverage on the grounds of their medical history have become eligible for it.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump criticized Obamacare as bringing about increased fiscal burdens and skyrocketing insurance premiums, and his slogan was "repeal."

Yet the Republican Party's hard-line conservatives regarded it problematic that some public subsidies are still kept in place in the replacement bill, saying this would not constitute a repeal of the present program, and opposed the bill.

Also among moderates, a rebellious move spread as they were concerned about a possible increase in the number of the uninsured, due to the abolition of mandatory insurance coverage and cuts in subsidies.

The issue of how deep government should get involved in social welfare programs is one that leaves U.S. public opinion divided. This is also at the root of ideological antagonism within the Republican Party. Trump may have failed to recognize that it would not be easy for the party to unite over this issue.

The building of a wall on the border with Mexico — another of Trump's campaign pledges — has also been put on hold. House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced that the chamber will put off budgeting for the cost of the work.

It is also inevitable that hard-line conservatives, who attach importance to a balanced budget, would oppose other campaign promises targeted next for approval: large tax cuts, massive infrastructure investments, and higher defense spending. The state of "indecisive politics," with Congress not functioning, is likely to continue.

Trump will not be able to retain his supporters if he only issues one executive order after another, which would only negate the previous administration in such areas as a review of global warming measures.

His approval rating has fallen below 40 percent. The rating, just over two months since taking office, is a record low compared with those of past presidents. The so-called "Trump rally" of higher stock prices and stronger dollar has lost momentum.

These demonstrate the fact that people's hopes over Trump's experience as a businessman and his negotiating skills have been betrayed, with his political capability being questioned. Top-priority issues for Trump would be to make up for the delay in his Cabinet appointments and solidify the lineup of policy experts and go-betweens to connect the Cabinet with Congress.

Online:

http://the-japan-news.com

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April 5

Los Angeles Times on Trump's attack on journalism, part of a series called "The Problem with Trump":

In Donald Trump's America, the mere act of reporting news unflattering to the president is held up as evidence of bias. Journalists are slandered as "enemies of the people."

Facts that contradict Trump's version of reality are dismissed as "fake news." Reporters and their news organizations are "pathetic," ''very dishonest," ''failing," and even, in one memorable turn of phrase, "a pile of garbage."

Trump is, of course, not the first American president to whine about the news media or try to influence coverage. President George W. Bush saw the press as elitist and "slick." President Obama's press operation tried to exclude Fox News reporters from interviews, blocked many officials from talking to journalists and, most troubling, prosecuted more national security whistle-blowers and leakers than all previous presidents combined.

But Trump being Trump, he has escalated the traditionally adversarial relationship in demagogic and potentially dangerous ways.

Most presidents, irritated as they may have been, have continued to acknowledge — at least publicly — that an independent press plays an essential role in American democracy. They've recognized that while no news organization is perfect, honest reporting holds leaders and institutions accountable; that's why a free press was singled out for protection in the 1st Amendment and why outspoken, unfettered journalism is considered a hallmark of a free country.

Trump doesn't seem to buy it. On his very first day in office, he called journalists "among the most dishonest human beings on earth."

Since then he has regularly condemned legitimate reporting as "fake news." His administration has blocked mainstream news organizations, including The Times, from briefings and his secretary of State chose to travel to Asia without taking the press corps, breaking a longtime tradition.

This may seem like bizarre behavior from a man who consumes the news in print and on television so voraciously and who is in many ways a product of the media. He comes from reality TV, from talk radio with Howard Stern, from the gossip pages of the New York City tabloids, for whose columnists he was both a regular subject and a regular source.

But Trump's strategy is pretty clear: By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration's far-fetched storyline.

It's a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones. For instance, when he calls journalists "enemies of the people," Trump (whether he knows it or not) echoes Josef Stalin and other despots.

But it's an effective strategy. Such attacks are politically expedient at a moment when trust in the news media is as low as it's ever been, according to Gallup. And they're especially resonant with Trump's supporters, many of whom see journalists as part of the swamp that needs to be drained.

Of course, we're not perfect. Some readers find news organizations too cynical; others say we're too elitist. Some say we downplay important stories, or miss them altogether. Conservatives often perceive an unshakable liberal bias in the media (while critics on the left see big, corporate-owned media institutions like The Times as hopelessly centrist).

To do the best possible job, and to hold the confidence of the public in turbulent times, requires constant self-examination and evolution. Soul-searching moments — such as those that occurred after the New York Times was criticized for its coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq war or, more recently, when the media failed to take Trump's candidacy seriously enough in the early days of his campaign — can help us do a better job for readers. Even if we are not faultless, the news media remain an essential component in the democratic process and should not be undermined by the president.

Some critics have argued that if Trump is going to treat the news media like the "opposition party" (a phrase his senior aide Steve Bannon has used), then journalists should start acting like opponents too. But that would be a mistake. The role of an institution like the Los Angeles Times (or the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or CNN) is to be independent and aggressive in pursuit of the truth — not to take sides. The editorial pages are the exception: Here we can and should express our opinions about Trump. But the news pages, which operate separately, should report intensively without prejudice, partiality or partisanship.

Given the very real dangers posed by this administration, we should be indefatigable in covering Trump, but shouldn't let his bullying attitude persuade us to be anything other than objective, fair, open-minded and dogged.

The fundamentals of journalism are more important than ever. With the president of the United States launching a direct assault on the integrity of the mainstream media, news organizations, including The Times, must be courageous in our reporting and resolute in our pursuit of the truth.

This is the fourth in a series.

Online:

http://www.latimes.com

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April 5

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the Egyptian president's White House visit:

President Donald Trump's warm reception of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the White House Monday put in some contrast the foreign policies of the new administration and the previous one.

Mr. Sissi's advent to power in a way made the relatively brief period of democracy in Egypt seem an interlude, rather than a trend, in spite of the American and other rhetoric that surrounded the so-called Arab Spring. Egyptian crowds overthrew previous military president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after 30 years of rule. He had been preceded by two military presidents, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi was elected president in 2012, then overthrown by Mr. Sissi in 2013. Then-Gen. Sissi promoted himself to field marshal, then engineered his election as president in 2014. Since then his rule has been characterized by heavy-handed measures. These have included a virtual shutdown of Egypt's press, rough handling of any popular street demonstrations against him and the imprisonment of thousands of opposition figures.

Washington welcomed Mr. Mubarak's overthrow as a manifestation of democracy. It found Mr. Morsi as president ham-handed and a little difficult to take. When Mr. Sissi carried out his coup d'etat, President Barack Obama's government did not respond according to U.S. law regarding military sales to governments achieving power through such measures, which require a cutoff but, instead, reduced military sales to Egypt and tightened procedures. This was done because U.S. military aid to Egypt is normally used to pay back American defense firms selling arms to it.

Now, Mr. Trump has changed course, praising Mr. Sissi as doing "a fantastic job in a very difficult situation" and indicating a return to the good old days of liberal terms for America's sales of planes, tanks and other armaments to Egypt. The reason for this is basically threefold.

First is that although Egypt occupies the upper northeast corner of Africa, it is nonetheless a very important player in overall Middle Eastern affairs. Its population is 95 million. Second is the fact that an Egypt lined up with the United States can be very helpful to American ally Israel. Mr. Sissi advocates a two-state settlement of that problem but plays it softly. Third is the commercial interest of America in its companies selling arms to Egypt without restriction.

Long-term prospects for Mr. Sissi, and Egypt for that matter, are questionable. Its economy has been damaged seriously by the collapse of tourism caused by unrest and foreign dislike of the atmosphere created by Mr. Sissi's approach to governance. His government's control of the country is increasingly being put at risk by the success of Islamist forces in the Sinai peninsula against Sissi government forces. But, for now, he has been given a boost by Mr. Trump and by the presumed renewed flow of arms.

Whether it is good U.S. policy or not will remain to be seen. Egypt seems to be destined to be ruled by generals, whether its people like it or not, given the record of the past 65 years. America was probably swimming against the tide in concentrating on Egypt's lamentable democratic and human rights record under Mr. Sissi.

Online:

http://www.post-gazette.com

| Apr. 5, 2017 5:27 PM EDT

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