Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen:
Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's Wednesday hearing before the House Oversight Committee was explosive not for what was new — but, depressingly, what was not new to anyone watching this administration with clear eyes. The takeaway: President Trump is a liar with a defective character — and, possibly, a criminal.
Corroborating allegations previously revealed in court documents, the president's former fixer said Mr. Trump was deeply involved in the felony campaign finance violation to which Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom. Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump asked him to pay adult-film star Stephanie Clifford $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election to keep her silent about an alleged affair. Mr. Cohen provided a copy of a check, signed by the president, reimbursing him for the illegal payoff. "I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later," Mr. Cohen said. "He knew about everything."
Mr. Cohen also insisted that Mr. Trump got advance notice in July 2016 from GOP trickster Roger Stone that WikiLeaks was planning to publish documents damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. If true, this means that Mr. Trump lied to the country when he denied ever speaking with Mr. Stone, who is now under indictment, about WikiLeaks.
Mr. Cohen offered a similar account of the president's dishonesty on the question of whether Mr. Trump pursued a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign. "Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it," Mr. Cohen said. He stipulated that Mr. Trump did not order him to lie to Congress about the matter, as Mr. Cohen did, but explained that he "made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie."
In other words, according to Mr. Cohen, the president's record of lies and concealment is substantial, and on far weightier issues than misstating a fact here or there. This is not the truth-bending that used to pass as normal for Washington politicians, but dishonesty that is far more breathtaking.
Mr. Cohen's also offered a dishearteningly believable account of Mr. Trump's character. Calling the president "a racist," ''a conman" and "a cheat," Mr. Cohen recounted that "while we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid."
For their part, Republicans spent nearly all of their time attacking Mr. Cohen rather than defending the president — with one going so far as to childishly recite the rhyme, "liar, liar, pants on fire." Yet Mr. Cohen repeatedly admitted guilt and apologized for his own role in the activities he described.
Rather than ignore Mr. Cohen's allegations, House Republicans might have taken his warning, learned over a decade carrying water for the president: "The more people that follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I'm suffering."
The Japan News on the U.S.-China trade friction:
A fruitless conflict that threatens the global economy should not be left to continue indefinitely. In order to calm the confrontation, both the United States and China should make further efforts to reach a compromise.
U.S. President Donald Trump declared that he would extend a deadline for negotiating a trade deal with China. He will delay for the time being an increase in U.S. punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, slated to be implemented on March 2. Trump also suggested he would hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping as early as in March, to conclude a final agreement.
One reason for this is that both countries had reached a partial accord during ministerial-level talks on such issues as an increase in China's imports of U.S. goods and the stability of the yuan's exchange rates.
The bilateral trade talks, which had been riddled with hostility, have at last made progress. It is probably because both countries have heightened their sense of crisis over the damage trade friction would inflict on their own economies.
China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 28 years last year. In the United States, consumption and the performance of U.S. companies have deteriorated.
The U.S.-China trade friction will also stagnate the trade and production of countries around the world. By looking squarely at the possible peril that a clash between major economic powers would bring about, both countries are urged to expedite the final round of negotiations.
It is hard to be optimistic about the outcome of the talks because the United States and China have been waging a battle over supremacy not only in trade but also in advanced technologies and security.
The United States is pressing China to review such practices as giving subsidies to state-owned enterprises, arguing that they distort the environment for fair competition.
For China, such measures constitute the core of its economic strategy of promoting its industries under the state's leadership. The strengthening of high-tech industries will also lead to the development of military technologies. China is not likely to readily go along with such U.S. demands.
However, mitigating trade friction is indispensable for the revitalization of the Chinese economy. If Beijing continues its self-serving policies, the number of foreign companies that refrain from investing in China will increase. The country must strive to correct such policies on its own initiative.
There is also a problem with Trump, who is insisting on a reduction of the U.S. trade deficit. The balance of trade is influenced by various factors, such as global economic trends and currency exchange rates. It cannot be controlled by its accord with China alone.
The two countries may reach an agreement at the upcoming summit. But even so, there is a possibility of trade friction rekindling unless the trade balance between the two countries improves. Will this end up as a fragile agreement?
Worrisome is that China, in its eagerness to avert U.S. sanctions, may accept unreasonable demands from the United States. China is set to promise to increase its purchases of U.S. products, including soybeans, by presenting specific quantities.
If such quantitative controls — involving fixed amounts of imports from a specific country in advance — go unchallenged, free trade will be impeded.
Japan will enter into negotiations on a trade agreement on goods with the United States as early as this spring.
Won't the Trump administration force Japan to also adopt numerical targets, in light of what it has achieved through its talks with China? Japan must exercise sufficient caution.
Chicago Tribune on voters advancing a political outsider, who campaigned on reforming Chicago's police department, to a runoff for mayor:
No one could have predicted when Lori Lightfoot announced her plans to run for mayor in May 2018 she would emerge as a front-runner on election night. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle? Probably. William "Bill" Daley? Likely. Susana Mendoza? Maybe. Willie Wilson? Possibly.
Instead, the corruption-busting, anti-machine candidate who got on television late, who ran a shoestring campaign, who got in front of as many voters as possible — the outsider who ran against the Chicago political establishment — beat it on Tuesday. Now she faces Preckwinkle, the runner-up, in the April 2 runoff election. Lightfoot won with 17.5 percent of the vote to Preckwinkle's 16.1 percent. Which candidate will shore up the rest of Chicago?
Lightfoot didn't have heavy union backing. She didn't have corporate support. She didn't follow a rose garden strategy. She didn't have high-priced consultants or media production teams or experienced campaign staffers.
Yet she bubbled to the top. She surged. Chicago voters across the city searched until they found her name on that long list of candidates on the ballot — she was listed No. 12 out of 14 — and propelled her into a showdown with Preckwinkle. Two black women. Two progressives. Two powerful voices. A historic matchup.
Preckwinkle brings her own moxie to the rumble. She has executive experience managing thousands of employees, overseeing a budget, negotiating labor agreements and, as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, flexing political muscle. She heads into the runoff with two important labor endorsements, from the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union, organizations with formidable ground games.
Lightfoot will have to step up hers. When she kicked off her campaign, she expected to face Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She framed Emanuel's leadership style as "us vs. them." Divisive. Off-putting. Aloof. It's why she got into the race in the first place. Then Emanuel decided not to run. Another twist that made this race unpredictable.
Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor, later assigned to investigate Chicago police misconduct cases and oversee a task force to overhaul the Chicago Police Department. She gave voters a clean option. She suffered no taint from connections to Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, who faces a federal criminal charge of attempted extortion. That scandal continues to plague Preckwinkle; it dragged on the campaigns of Mendoza and Gery Chico and others who have ties to Burke.
If Lightfoot cracked the machine Tuesday, so did Chicago voters — at least with their choice of the top vote-getting semifinalist in the race for mayor.
But Lightfoot and Preckwinkle now have to court a wider base of Chicagoans in order to succeed in April. Lightfoot won North Shore wards and dominated the North Side; Preckwinkle cleaned up in her Hyde Park base and a few surrounding wards. Up for grabs are voters on the far Northwest and Southwest sides heavily populated with teachers, police officers and firefighters who backed Jerry Joyce. Voters in roughly a dozen South Side wards supported Wilson and Chico.
What will Lightfoot and Preckwinkle do to win those hearts and minds? The overture starts now.
The Charlotte Observer of North Carolina on a congressional race the state board has called a new election for amid evidence of ballot fraud:
Mark Harris was cruising toward a seat in Congress until Joshua Malcolm raised his hand.
The North Carolina board of elections convened on Tuesday, Nov. 27, to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election. It was expected to be a routine matter, as it is every year. But at the last minute, Malcolm asked his colleagues on the board to pull the 9th District race from the list of 13 congressional races to be certified.
He cited unspecific "unfortunate activities" and said, "I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding which has been ongoing for a number of years that has repeatedly been referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys for them to take action and clean it up. And in my opinion those things have not taken place."
The board voted 9-0 not to certify Harris's 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready.
A few dozen bombshells later, details about a fraudulent absentee ballot operation in Bladen County have been unearthed and the state board has called for a new election.
So the right thing happened, ultimately, in this case, but it makes us wonder: What if Joshua Malcolm hadn't slowed things down? How do we know there hasn't been election fraud beyond Bladen and before 2018? How confident can North Carolinians be that their elections will be free of fraud going forward?
We applaud staff members at the state board for their thorough investigation of the Harris-McCready race, particularly as legislative meddling presented endless distractions and some leading Republicans smeared their integrity. But as Malcolm himself pointed out, the Bladen irregularities had been going on for years and nothing stopped them until now. The US attorney and district attorneys were aware of the allegations but filed no charges.
It stands to reason that there is not widespread absentee ballot fraud in other counties because complaints would have been lodged. But North Carolinians deserve more assurance than that. Are there robust systems in place to ensure there is no fraud? Are boards of elections and district attorneys and U.S. attorneys vigilant enough?
NC Policy Watch quoted elections board chairman Bob Cordle as saying he hopes voters conclude from last week's outcome that "sometimes the law works, and sometimes government works."
It did in this case. Now let's make sure it does all of the time.
The New York Times on clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church:
To many Roman Catholics worldwide, the very fact of senior bishops listening to victims of clerical sexual abuse and the pope condemning the evil in vivid language no doubt came as a shock. The main body of the church has long shifted away from the United States and Western Europe, and the faithful in Africa, Asia and Latin America have not yet confronted the blight of predatory clergymen and institutional deafness to the extent of Americans or Europeans.
That is likely to be the explanation given by the Vatican for the lack of concrete measures to combat the crisis after a meeting heralded as a mighty counterattack by hierarchy and its activist pope against the evil ravaging their church: The global flock needs to see and hear first, and the change must arise from their own episcopate, they'll say.
It doesn't wash.
And not only because activists in the West are fed up with pledges of change in the 17 years since The Boston Globe revealed systematic abuse in the Boston diocese. The revelations have accelerated in recent years — the grand jury report from Pennsylvania of abuse by hundreds of priests over many years; a similar report from Illinois; nuns finally speaking out about what they've been subjected to.
As the revelations have escalated, so has the rhetoric. "Prepare for divine justice," Pope Francis warned abusive priests at Christmas. "Ravenous wolves," he called them in his speech to the Vatican gathering. But when it came to action, the talk was once again of changing hearts and minds, of changing a centuries-old culture.
It doesn't wash because what is happening is not a personal moral lapse, to be treated as a sin to address through penitence and prayer, but a crime in which the church has been an accomplice. Priests who are credibly shown to abuse children should be thrown out of the pulpit and identified to civil authority; bishops who cover up their actions should be laicized and exposed, and the order to do so must come from the top, from the pontiff.
The church has always been harsh on matters of sex, whether demanding celibacy of its priests, condemning birth control or prohibiting homosexual sex. Once the pope publicly acknowledges that priestly pedophilia is prevalent, the shock will not be softened by deferring action.
Of course, it is important that the church investigate what in its culture gives rise to such perversity. Pope Francis has demonstrated an admirable openness on many once-taboo issues, and his anguished remarks on the clerical abuse scandal no doubt come from the heart.
But a malignancy whose primary victims are trusting children must be treated by immediate and radical measures, not by appeals or hand-wringing. The time for that is past.
Los Angeles Times on the Academy Awards and Oscar-winner "Green Book":
Four years after #OscarsSoWhite was hashtag-born, the Oscars ceremony saw a record rendering of diversity: In addition to seven black artists receiving awards in multiple categories, Asian filmmakers won best documentary and best animated short, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron won for best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film — and a group of young female filmmakers won best documentary short for a film about the stigma associated with menstruation. That's a welcome sea change for a motion picture academy so hidebound four years ago that it nominated not a single person of color in any of the four acting categories. Since then, the academy has swelled its ranks with hundreds of new voting members who are women and people of color.
The increase in diversity, however, didn't prevent Oscar voters from making some controversial choices about films centered on people of color. Most of the friction was over the awards (notably, the Oscars for best picture and best original screenplay) going to "Green Book," a film about a racist white man who takes a job chauffeuring a gifted black concert pianist around the segregated South. To the film's critics, and there are many, the awards for "Green Book" showed that Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters still fall for the old "white savior" tropes and films that resolve deep-seated conflicts with feel-good Hollywood endings by the time the final credits roll.
The ire generated by those statuettes wasn't abated by the presence of Octavia Spencer among the movie's mostly white male producers, or by actor Mahershala Ali, who played the pianist, winning for best supporting actor. Nor did the Oscar that Spike Lee collected for adapted screenplay (along with a team of co-writers) for "BlacKkKlansman" quell discontent on Twitter.
In the end, this competition should be about the best performance and the best work. And it is inevitable that more talented people will lose on Oscar night than win. The goal is to keep expanding the diversity in the membership and in the film business itself so that a wider vast array of stories is told on film and championed by the academy. Judging from the nominees and winners, the industry is going in the right direction. The real achievement will come when a movie is passed over, and no one assumes it's because of racism or sexism.