Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
China Daily on President Donald Trump's comments during his visit to Japan:
U.S. President Donald Trump once again harped on his favourite bête noire, trade deficits, during his visit to Japan on Sunday, the first stop on his five-country Asia tour, saying his country had "suffered massive trade deficits at the hands of Japan for many, many years".
Trump is expected to play the same card when he visits Beijing after his stop in South Korea this week, as he called the United States' trade deficit with China "embarrassing" and "horrible" ahead of his trip.
His criticism of the country's major trade partners in Asia may win him support back home from those who believe his claim that unfair trade practices have stripped jobs and wealth from the U.S. — "decade after decade, trade deficit upon trade deficit", as he said in March.
But his argument that the U.S. is a loser in global trade simply because of the massive trade deficits it has incurred each year is misleading and fails to reflect the real benefits the country has gained from the existing global trade and economic regime.
In past decades, due to rising labour and environmental costs at home, the U.S. moved much of its manufacturing production capacity overseas, retaining mainly its high-tech industries. It then imported low-priced manufacturing goods from other countries, which helped drive down its domestic inflation and benefited those U.S. multinationals making the goods abroad, creating a windfall for US investors and consumers.
The US president habitually attributes the country's manufacturing job losses to "unfair trade". But according to the United States' own data, its jobless rate dropped from 9.6 per cent in 2010 to 4.9 per cent in 2016, while its trade of goods deficit surged from less than $700 billion to $796.7 billion over the same period, indicating that a rise in its trade deficit is not accompanied by a loss of jobs.
Whether a country registers a trade surplus or deficit is largely decided by its role in the global division of labour and its development stage.
Trump's lambasting of the United States' trade partners and his vows that under his administration the theft of American prosperity will end play well with the crowd — they carried him on a wave of popular sentiment into the White House after all — and no doubt they will serve to distract attention from his troubles at home, but they do nothing to help revitalize the U.S. economy, unless he can gain a few favours from other leaders, or boost the global economy.
Instead of criticizing his hosts, Trump should seek to promote co-operation to advance "free and reciprocal" trade to the benefit of both the region and the world.
The New York Times on House Republicans' tax plan:
To pass their immense tax giveaway to the rich, Republicans need to ensure their plan would add no more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. To do so, they're cutting billions of dollars in tax benefits to people trying to raise children, pay for college, buy a home or invest in renewable energy.
That is why taxes would go up for about 45 per cent of middle-class taxpayers by 2026 under the House bill, according to an analysis by The Times. By contrast, the people in the top 1 per cent of income will get an average tax cut of $64,720 a year by 2027, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Even the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation concludes that the tax cuts are heavily tilted toward the rich. Yet, the Republicans may take the knife to even more middle class benefits, because the Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday that the bill would overshoot the $1.5 trillion target by nearly $200 billion.
If the bill exceeded the $1.5 trillion deficit threshold, it would have to be considered under rules requiring 60 votes in the Senate for passage, rather than a simple 51 vote majority. But whether the provisions in the bill are procedural necessities or just incredibly mean-spirited, these are some ways they could hurt your family:
The bill eliminates the adoption tax credit, which is worth $13,570 per child to parents dealing with adoption procedures that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Republicans want to get rid of the medical expenses deduction, which is primarily used by families grappling with serious health problems.
Under the proposal, dependent-care benefits that families receive from employers for things like day care or elder care, including flexible spending accounts, will become taxable.
The bill would repeal the deduction for moving expenses when families take a new job that is at least 50 miles away.
One of the biggest changes in this bill is a technical one involving how income thresholds, credits and other parts of the tax code are adjusted for inflation. This will end up pushing middle-class taxpayers into higher brackets and making credits and deductions less valuable over time.
The Republicans want to end a program that lets state and local governments issue private-activity bonds to finance housing and let homeowners claim a tax credit on certain mortgages.
The bill repeals numerous education deductions and credits. It also makes taxable the value of the tuition and other benefits universities give to their graduate teaching and research assistants.
The House bill would require at least one parent to have a Social Security number to claim the refundable portion of child tax credit.
House Republicans want to require students to provide a Social Security number to claim access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit for tuition and related expenses.
The House bill would get rid of a $7,500 tax credit for electric car purchases starting with vehicles that hit the road next year.
The production tax credit for renewable energy will become less valuable under the Republican proposal.
San Antonio Express-News on the deadly shooting at a church in Texas:
The deadly shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs Sunday leaves us with many unanswered questions, but a few things are remarkably clear.
Among them: we can't help but be saddened that we find ourselves writing this same editorial with such distressing regularity; as a state and a nation, we mourn the deaths of innocents from yet another mass shooting, the death toll at 26 this time (as of the evening); and, perhaps most clear, none of us should allow the mind-numbing repetition of such events to inure us to this type of savagery.
We fear this is happening. This cannot be our normal.
Law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, identified the gunman as Devin P. Kelley, 26. Among the unknowns Sunday evening was a motive. And perhaps, as with the Las Vegas slaughter of Oct. 1, in which Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded nearly 500, we won't ever know.
But what we know is bad enough.
But this time closer to home. Sutherland Springs, population 362 according to the 2000 Census, is in Wilson County and is 21 miles east of San Antonio. The ages of the dead: 5 to 72. Parents, children, friends and relatives lost.
This time, these are Texans. This time, these are our neighbours, parishioners of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The identified shooter was found dead from a bullet wound in his crashed vehicle in neighbouring Guadalupe County, unclear Sunday evening whether it was self-inflicted or from a citizen who fired on the gunman outside the church.
No information was released on the citizen who fired on the gunman, who was wearing black and had on a tactical vest. It's likely this citizen saved lives.
The weapon the murderer used for his deadly shooting spree was reportedly a Ruger assault-style rifle. He apparently dropped it after the citizen fired on him. Authorities found other guns in his car.
Any loss of innocent life is tragic, but to be killed while in a house of worship is particularly heinous. If any place should be safe, it should be a church, where people gather in peace, faith and fellowship — a place where among the commandments adhered to is thou shalt not kill.
But here's what else we know. Not even churches have been spared this carnage, as attests the slaughter at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. It is still fresh in memory.
As with any mass shooting, this is a tragedy, but it is compounded in this instance because, if the death toll remains at 26, this will amount to 7 per cent of the small community's population. Residents will likely be related to or know someone killed in that church Sunday.
Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to these, this time our neighbours.
The Oregonian on a Trump Administration tribal housing decision:
The American government owes the Columbia River tribes at least 85 homes to replace those lost when three dams were built decades ago and flooded out their fishing villages.
As recently as 2016, the federal government finally acknowledged that responsibility to the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes.
And yet despite our shameful history of making and breaking promises to Native Americans, the Trump administration recently decided against providing the Army Corps of Engineers with the $1.6 million requested to finish planning for the much-needed homes near The Dalles, as reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive's Molly Harbarger.
It was a disgraceful decision that amounts to a double double-cross.
The move by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney came as a surprise to congressional leaders from Oregon and Washington. They've pushed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace the lost tribal housing since Harbarger's 2016 investigation into the deplorable and dangerous conditions at tribal camps along the river.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats, toured a few of the 31 camps, where hundreds of tribal members live without safe shelter, utilities or restrooms. Merkley, Blumenauer and Washington Sen. Patty Murray pushed successful bills last year to provide $3 million to create plans for housing near The Dalles Dam.
Half was spent, but the remainder is needed to complete the work that the Corps has indefinitely put on hold since the budget office decision. The move frustrated tribal leaders and members who've waited so long and had warily followed the continued progress of the plan — even as Trump questioned the legality of other tribal housing programs in his early days in office.
Merkley told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board last week that he wasn't given a heads-up on the budget office decision as is typically the case when an administration holds back funding for such a well-championed project. Instead, he said, his staff was informed of the reversal in a run-of-the-mill briefing.
At this point, Merkley and others have only heard that Mulvaney believes the Army Corps has too many other projects to address to commit time on housing issues.
That claim is not only offensive, it's off-base.
The Army Corps regularly takes on housing issues, including as recently as September when its engineers helped plan and deliver temporary housing for Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey. But the Corps doesn't just jump in to help in disaster situations. According to its own website, the Corps in recent years has built nearly 50 child care centres, about 38,000 permanent barracks and 1,200 family housing units.
Most notably, the Corps jumped on projects decades ago to rebuild housing for the people who lost their homes in the predominantly white towns flooded out by the Bonneville and John Day dams. That included about $35 million spent to recreate the town of North Bonneville, including replacing streets, a sewage system and electrical connections.
This isn't a question of capacity or know-how. This project — an infinitesimal slice of the Corps' proposed $5.5 billion civil works budget — is about the government finally holding up its end of a bargain that's been delayed for far too long.
Merkley and the others aim to meet with Mulvaney in the coming weeks and appeal for the funding needed to replace the homes that the federal government destroyed. Truly, it's hard to comprehend that the government could once again step away from an agreement with Native Americans and compromise the health and well-being of Columbia River tribes.
But here we are.
The Army Corps' stated vision is to create "engineering solutions for our nation's toughest challenges." The Trump administration should get out of the Corps' way and let them.
The Roanoke Times on Democrats' victory in Virginia serving as a referendum on President Donald Trump:
Donald Trump lost Tuesday. Bigly.
He wasn't on the ballot in Virginia but make no mistake, he's the reason the race turned out like it did.
In a normal year, Democrat Ralph Northam would not have won as easily as he did.
In a normal year, Northam may not have won at all.
Four years ago, Terry McAuliffe won with just under 48 per cent of the vote in a three-way race. Even then, the McAuliffe barely scraped by against Ken Cuccinelli, a polarizing figure who turned off many moderate voters.
This time around, Republican Ed Gillespie was as mainstream a Republican as you'd find. He seemed well-positioned to win back the suburban moderates who first defected from Cuccinelli and then recoiled from Trump a year ago. And yet none of that seemed to matter, not with Virginia voters feeling the way they do about Trump. They didn't vote for Trump a year ago and in exit polls Tuesday they made it clear they liked him even less. In the only poll that matters — the one held at the ballot box — voters went for Democrats in a way that seems impossible to explain except as a reaction to Trump.
Northam's percentage margin was the biggest for a Democratic candidate for governor since Gerald Baliles in 1985. His raw vote margin was the biggest ever.
It's not just that the Democrats swept the three statewide races— with Justin Fairfax becoming the state's second African-American lieutenant governor and Mark Herring winning re-election as attorney general. Democrats also made astounding gains in the House of Delegates, and might win back control of the chamber for the first time since 1999. Nobody — at least nobody you'd take seriously — predicted that could happen. Democrats needed to pick up 17 seats, which seemed in surmountable number - yet they won 13 with six others still too close to call Tuesday night. Even if they fall short, the dynamics in the General Assembly will be very different come January. Medicaid expansion might yet happen.
In the night's biggest shocker, a transgender candidate even upset Del. Bob Marshall of Manassas, the state's most vocal Republican legislator on cultural issues. The Democratic wave didn't spare moderate Republicans either. Del. Joseph Yost, R-Giles County, was perhaps the most atypical Republican around, but even he was upset by Democrat Chris Hurst, the former newscaster. Democrats once again have something that was previously thought nearly impossible — a legislator from west of Roanoke (even if the New River Valley isn't very far west).
This was no ordinary night.
It's instructive to look at where and how the Democrats won, because the results give more shape to a Virginia that we've long known was changing, but now is changing perhaps more dramatically.
In rural Virginia, we saw Republicans continue to grow their share of the vote while the Democratic share continued to dwindle.
Look at Buchanan County in the coalfields. In the 1980s, Democrats often took 65 per cent of the vote there. That percentage shrank over the years but as recently as 2005, Democrat Tim Kaine carried Buchanan with 52 per cent of the vote. Four years ago, though, McAuliffe took just 30 per cent of the vote. It turns out that wasn't the floor. Hillary Clinton polled just 18.6 per cent of the vote there last fall. On Tuesday, Northam took 23 per cent. You can look at that two ways: He ran slightly better than Clinton did, or his showing was poorer than McAuliffe.
Either way, Northam wasn't really a factor in rural Virginia — even though he grew up in a rural area and had a military background that in another time might have played well with rural voters.
One of Northam's signature issues was a proposal to expand the University of Virginia's College at Wise to create a bigger economic engine in the heart of the coalfields. His electoral reward? None at all. McAuliffe took just 26 per cent of the vote in Wise County; Northam ran even worse, at just under 22 per cent.
And none of that mattered, because voters in the urban crescent went decisively for Northam.
Four years ago, McAuliffe couldn't even get 50 per cent of the vote in Loudoun County, carrying it by 3,905 votes. This year, Northam took nearly 60 per cent of the vote in Loudoun County, with a margin of 23,432 votes.
Look at Prince William County, another suburban bellwether. McAuliffe took 52 per cent of the vote there, for a margin of 8,010 votes. Northam won the county with almost 61 per cent, and a margin of 24,673 votes.
Republicans simply can't win in Virginia if they're losing in Northern Virginia by margins like that. There just aren't enough votes in rural Virginia to make that up, even if Gillespie did win many rural localities with a Trump-like share of the vote, often 70 per cent or more.
Going forward, Republicans will need to figure out that puzzle. Gillespie thought he had the key — emphasize tax cuts to bring back the suburbs while invoking cultural issues to energize Trump voters.
The latter might have worked in rural areas, but clearly did not in Northern Virginia. This is perhaps a landmark moment. Exit polls — and pre-election polls —showed that voters overwhelmingly favoured keeping Confederate monuments in place. Northam said they should come down; Gillespie rallied to their defence.
Either the Confederate issue simply didn't matter that much to many voters — or Gillespie's embrace of it backfired in Northern Virginia. Trump acolytes will no doubt say Gillespie didn't go far enough in embracing Trump. There is zero evidence in these returns to support that argument. Instead, what we see is that voters — especially in Northern Virginia — wanted to cast a vote against Trump and took that out against the nearest Republicans they could find, whether they deserved it or not.
It's unclear how Republicans disentangle themselves from Trump, but the Virginia results make it very clear he is an electoral problem for them heading into the 2018 mid-terms.
With either candidate, Virginia would have found itself with a competent chief executive. In Northam, we have one who — at least temporarily — will become something of a national star. Northam seems too level-headed to get excited about that, and that's a good thing. He might have expected to win, but he surely didn't expect to bring in this many Democratic delegates with him. Richmond will be a different place and we suspect Washington may be too.
The Wall Street Journal on U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's sentence and the U.S. Navy's report on ships' collisions with civilian vessels:
The military is one of the few institutions that Americans still hold in high esteem, but that should never be taken for granted. Two events late last week suggest that even the military's culture of high performance can be eroded without constant attention.
The first was a military judge's decision to let off U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with a slap on the wrist for desertion in Afghanistan in 2009. After a court martial, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance recommended that Bergdahl be dishonourably discharged, demoted to private and forfeit $10,000 in pay. Prosecutors had sought 14 years in prison.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for nearly five years, a terrible ordeal to be sure. But those most outraged by the wrist slap are other members of the armed services who fear the damage to military discipline. Bergdahl deserted on the battlefield in a forward post — the worst betrayal you can make against your fellow soldiers save for fragging them with friendly fire.
Members of Bergdahl's unit were killed or maimed when they were sent to search for him, not knowing that he had been preparing to walk away for weeks and had even dispatched personal effects to the U.S. before he walked off the forward base. The court-martial sentence must be demoralizing to those who do their duty and risk their lives without fanfare.
Even more distressing is the Navy's report on its investigation into the collisions with civilian vessels this year in the Pacific theatre by the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. The collisions — off the coast of Japan, and in the Singapore Strait, respectively — resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.
The 71-page report, which says both collisions were "avoidable," is damning about the Navy's training practices and makes for dispiriting reading if you are a civilian who thinks the U.S. Navy is the best in the world. The report says watch team members on the Fitzgerald "were not familiar with basic radar fundamentals." And it cites a failure to plan for safety, adhere to sound navigation practices, properly use available navigation tools, and respond effectively in a crisis.
As for the McCain, the Navy cited a loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in operating the ship's steering and propulsion system. It also cited the failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road that govern manoeuvring vessels amid high-density maritime traffic. These are mistakes of basic seamanship that suggest inadequate training, or shifts that are too long and cause a loss of concentration and crew cohesion.
The Navy had already relieved the ship captains and even the commander of the Pacific Fleet. This accountability is a credit to the Navy and will be a lesson to other commanders. But it should also be a warning that Congress needs to allocate enough money to adequately train sailors so they can fulfil their missions. Collisions with civilian ships in peacetime are awful, but seamanship failures during wartime would be disastrous.