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Obama Braces for Donald Trump Questions From World Leaders
by Gardiner Harris

HANOI, Vietnam — Officially, the top world leaders who gather Thursday at the Group of 7 summit meeting will talk about shared concerns, like global trade or the Islamic State. But their private discussions are likely to cover a topic that is not on the agenda: Donald J. Trump.

President Obama now hears questions in his meetings with world leaders about whether Mr. Trump has a realistic shot at becoming president.

For months, Mr. Obama has answered those questions with an emphatic “no.”

“I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president,” Mr. Obama said in February at the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meeting in California.

But this week’s summit meeting in Japan is the first among major allies since Mr. Trump moved decisively toward securing the Republican nomination, and Mr. Obama’s counterparts are likely to want more detail in his explanations of an election that has prompted fascination and apprehension overseas.

Mr. Obama’s Japanese hosts are particularly alarmed at the prospect of a Trump presidency because the real estate developer has been bashing Japan for decades. Mr. Trump’s criticisms have a distinctly 1980s flavor, when Japanese cars were flooding American markets and Japanese businesses were buying premier American properties like Rockefeller Center in New York.

“You have to see the trade imbalance between Japan and the United States — it’s unbelievable,” Mr. Trump said in a recent interview. “They sell to us, and we practically give them back nothing by comparison.”

He added, “It’s a very unfair situation.”

Mr. Trump has criticized the military alliance between Japan and the United States as being one-sided, and he suggested in a March interview that Japan and South Korea should have their own nuclear arsenals so they would be less reliant on the security umbrella provided by the United States.

Hosting an April summit meeting intended to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama lashed out.

“The person who made the statements doesn’t know much about foreign policy, nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula, or the world generally,” he said, not mentioning Mr. Trump by name. But he acknowledged that foreign leaders had questioned him about the presumptive Republican nominee.

“It came up on the sidelines, I’ve said before, that people pay attention to American elections,” Mr. Obama said. “Even in those countries that are used to a carnival atmosphere in their own politics want sobriety and clarity when it comes to U.S. elections.”

More recently, Mr. Trump suggested that he would be willing to hold direct negotiations with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in yet another challenge to a core Japanese security priority.

Mr. Trump’s March comments led to an almost immediate response from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. “Whoever will become the next president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy,” Mr. Abe said.

Other Japanese officials have been even more forceful. The first week in May is generally regarded as a holiday in Japan, and top Japanese officials flood Washington for meetings. This year, many of those meetings focused on anxieties over Mr. Trump’s remarks.

At one such meeting, Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, joked that he was looking forward to hearing experts “explain how Emperor Qin Shi Huang built the Great Wall of China and made the Mexicans pay for it,” a reference to Mr. Trump’s promise to build a wall at the Mexican border at Mexico’s expense.

In a more serious vein, Mr. Sasae said he was disappointed by the isolationism expressed by some presidential candidates, another clear reference to Mr. Trump.

“I don’t want to see that kind of United States,” Mr. Sasae said. “I know that you know there has to be a debate about how to make the United States this strong, but the question is not whether you can be strong without a proper role in the rest of the world.”

At another recent meeting, Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister and a member of the Japanese House of Representatives, gave a lengthy list of what he characterized as Mr. Trump’s misstatements. “I don’t think there are any Trump supporters present here,” he joked.

Mr. Onodera emphasized the ways that Japan supported Washington’s priorities in the region and helped pay American expenses.

“Nothing is more important than the stability of East Asia,” he said. “We don’t want the U.S. political leaders to send out the wrong message.”

Even so, some Japanese officials have been concerned that the Obama administration is too solicitous of China, Tokyo’s great Asian rival.

“Whatever concerns there were about the Obama administration sometimes tilting toward China, those have been overwhelmed with what Trump is saying about Japan and our alliances,” said Michael J. Green, who served as a senior adviser on Asia during the George W. Bush administration. “They’re really worried.”

In private conversations, Japanese officials have said their only solace is that Mr. Trump is even more critical of China than he is of Japan.

Even if Mr. Trump loses, his ascent has led world leaders to worry that his “America first” platform is a harbinger of pressure for allies to pay up or make trade concessions in return for military protection.

Mr. Obama has himself insisted that allies share more of the burdens of military efforts in places like Libya and Syria, and has openly complained that even some European allies are “free riders.” But Mr. Obama still accepts that the United States is an indispensable nation without whose leadership global problems fester and intensify. Administration officials do say that sometimes the United States must act solely for the security of other nations, a message they hope will reassure the Japanese.

U.S, Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-year high
Source New York Times

WASHINGTON — Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal finances.

Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.

American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups, with rates rising by 89 percent for women and 38 percent for men. White middle-aged women had an increase of 80 percent.

The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75.

The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans. Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.

“This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health,” said Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of “Our Kids,” an investigation of new class divisions in America.

The rise in suicide rates has happened slowly over many years. Federal health researchers said they chose 1999 as the start of the period they studied because it was a low point in the national suicide rate and they wanted to cover the full period of its recent sustained rise.

The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013, noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since 2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.

Policy makers say efforts to prevent suicide across the country are spotty. While some hospitals and health systems screen for suicidal thinking and operate good treatment programs, many do not.

“We have more and more effective treatments, but we have to figure out how to bake them into health care systems so they are used more automatically,” said Dr. Jane Pearson, chairwoman of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Suicide Research Consortium, which oversees the National Institutes of Health funding for suicide prevention research. “We’ve got bits and pieces, but we haven’t really put them all together yet.”

She noted that while N.I.H. funding for suicide prevention projects had been relatively flat — rising to $25 million in 2016 from $22 million in 2012 — it was a small fraction of funding for research of mental illnesses, including mood disorders like depression.

The new federal analysis noted that the methods of suicide were changing. About one in four suicides in 2014 involved suffocation, which includes hanging and strangulation, compared with fewer than one in five in 1999. Suffocation deaths are harder to prevent because nearly anyone has access to the means, Ms. Hempstead said. And while the share of suicides involving guns declined — guns went from being involved in 37 percent of female suicides to 31 percent, and from 62 percent to 55 percent for men — the total number of gun suicides increased..

The question of what has driven the increases is unresolved, leaving experts to muse on the reasons.

Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks. Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.

Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said. They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.

“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.

Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of families on the lower rungs of the income ladder.

Dr. Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had studied the association between economic downturns and suicide going back to the 1920s and found that suicide was highest when the economy was weak. One of the highest rates in the country’s modern history, he said, was in 1932, during the Great Depression, when the rate was 22.1 per 100,000, about 70 percent higher than in 2014.

“There was a consistent pattern,” he said, which held for all ages between 25 and 64. “When the economy got worse, suicides went up, and when it got better, they went down.”

But other experts pointed out that the unemployment rate had been declining in the latter period of the study, and questioned how important the economy was to suicide.

The gap in suicide rates for men and women has narrowed because women’s rates are increasing faster than men’s. But men still kill themselves at a rate 3.6 times that of women. Though suicide rates for older adults fell over the period of the study, men over 75 still have the highest suicide rate of any age group — 38.8 per 100,000 in 2014, compared with just four per 100,000 for their female counterparts.

US Companies’ Debt Reaches Menacing Proportions

US companies are falling in a debt hole, according to S&P Global Ratings economists Andrew Chang and David Tesher.

The economists have analyzed financial metrics of about 2,000 US companies and found that last year the amount of outstanding debt has risen fifty times that of available funds.

The analysts note that the total amount of debt has increased by nearly $850 billion and was estimated at $6.6 trillion in 2015. Meanwhile, cash had only increased by 1 percent ($17 billion).

Another alarming factor is the distribution of debt and cash among the companies that were analyzed.

The economists mention that the $1.84 trillion of cash funds held by the 2,000 companies they covered is the largest amount ever. However, even this amount of cash can't distract one's mind from a much larger mountain of debt.

According to the S&P analysts, such worrying statistics was triggered by the companies' limitless investment appetites. The companies have opted to issue debt in order to fund operations or return cash to shareholders.

Many believe that this has led to a massive bubble in the bond market.
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