Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Miami Herald on incarceration of Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado:
Cuba's questionable human-rights record is on display again over a relatively insignificant act of civil disobedience. But how authorities have handled it, up to now, says volumes.
The brouhaha is over Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, or the Sixth One. Mr. Maldonado has been in jail since Dec. 25, 2014.
His crime: Attempting to put on a performance-art play that included two pigs named Raul and Fidel. The pigs were appearing in a performance of Revolt in the Farm, an obvious takeoff on George Orwell's classic Animal Farm.
In Cuba — before and after its renewed political relations with the United States — such irreverence in the guise of contempt for political leaders and the regime has been punishable by law. Clearly, the revolution has little tolerance and no sense of humor about these things.
El Sexto staged a hunger strike for 24 days when authorities announced recently that the artist would be released last Thursday.
That day, according to el Nuevo Herald reporters, the graffiti artist's relatives gathered outside the Valle Grande prison waiting for him to walk free.
It never happened.
According to Cuban blogger and activist Lia Villares, prison authorities told relatives they had no instructions to release El Sexto.
Then the artist's mother was notified by State Security that, yes, he had served the time required and would be released before Oct. 21.
Was this all some cruel joke? As this is written, the family sits and waits, as does El Sexto.
In the past eight months, Cuban authorities announced several times they would release the graffiti artist, then reneged. Disappointing? Yes. A total surprise from this mercurial and heartless regime? No.
In any free society, the joke El Sexto concocted would have been regarded as biting, but harmless political humor, not an assault on the state requiring imprisonment.
In the United States, people are not thrown in prison for drawing a Hitler mustache on a poster of former President George W. Bush or for waving banners critical of the commander in chief as President Obama's motorcade whizzes by. Oh wait, we live in a democracy. It's different in Cuba, not matter what tourists visiting the island are told.
The punishment imposed on El Sexto, an insignificant, young, rebellious graffiti artist, is excessive. And the uncertainty over his release has been painful for both the artist and his family. Supporters have ramped up a social-media campaign: #FreeElSexto.
Now, months after the United States and Cuba renewed relations, the constant mantra is that democratic influences will bring about change inside Cuba.
However, it's still hard to believe a tiger like the Cuban government will change its stripes. It's a lesson it reinforces by taking action against people like El Sexto.
And it is yet one more of too many post-normalization examples that confirms the regime is long way off from having the United States grant its fondest wish: ending the embargo against it.
The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on U.S. troops in Afghanistan:
President Barack Obama has decided to hand off the nation's longest-running war to his successor by retaining roughly 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the remainder of his term in office ending Jan. 20, 2017. That force represents more soldiers than he planned to keep in that embattled land, but fewer than his generals say is needed.
Will this number be adequate to prevent a further deterioration of the Afghan security picture?
Clearly, a lot will depend on the Afghans.
Even so, President Obama has repeatedly set troop ceilings for the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan without reference to what the Pentagon calls "facts on the ground." As the drawdowns he has ordered since 2012 have taken place, the Taliban, still covertly supported by its allies in Pakistan, have made gains against the U.S.-backed government.
About 9,800 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan today, the remnants of a force of more than 100,000 that Mr. Obama dispatched to Afghanistan in 2010. They have three missions: train, equip and support Afghan security forces, undertake independent counter-terror missions and protect themselves and U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance establishments from peril.
The president has not changed these missions but has decided that they can be performed by an ever-smaller force.
Still, recent Taliban gains appear to have persuaded Mr. Obama that his earlier plan to withdraw all but 1,000 American military personnel from Afghanistan next year was too risky.
Even the current number appears insufficient for the mission. Thus, further reduction will put the remaining U.S. troops at greater risk.
The enemy includes the Taliban's backers in neighboring Pakistan, Iran and Russia. In addition, the Islamic State (ISIS) has been making gains in Afghanistan.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, had requested that there be no more troop drawdowns until the security situation is stabilized. But Mr. Obama decided to make a 40 percent reduction in their number.
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, an architect of the successful Iraq "surge" in 2007, said the president "still does not listen to his combat field general."
Of course, President Obama faces tough calls on Afghanistan — as will his White House successor. And listening to military commanders doesn't require agreeing with them on every point.
But as President Obama's decision to pull out of Iraq shows, abandoning difficult missions too soon can be risky and create even greater future costs. The Pentagon had recommended that 20,000 U.S. troops be kept in Iraq, but Mr. Obama rejected this advice.
Now Iraq is in the midst of a new war provoked by ISIS, which Mr. Obama once dismissed as the junior varsity to al-Qaida's varsity. And some U.S. forces have been sent back to that war-torn country.
The president's decision to keep the glass half full in Afghanistan could be a signal that he is no longer guided wholly by wishful thinking about the Afghan mission.
And while the American people are understandably weary of this protracted campaign, Afghan-based terror remains a proven threat that must be countered by this president — and the next one.
The Wall Street Journal on missile defense for Korea:
North Korea could have as many as 100 nuclear bombs within five years and may already be able to mount warheads on missiles capable of reaching the United States. Those are the latest estimates of Pyongyang's atomic capabilities, and they will be at the center of the discussion Barack Obama will have with Park Geun-hye when the South Korean President visits the White House Friday. So it's good the two democracies can do something about it.
That's thanks to Thaad, or Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense. This U.S.-built system's powerful radar and sophisticated interceptors would allow U.S. and South Korean forces to intercept missiles across distances of up to 200 kilometers, compared with about 35 kilometers with the Patriot systems currently deployed around the Korean peninsula.
Deploying Thaad would integrate South Korean defenses into a regional network of U.S. and Japanese sensors, enabling more accurate detection and interception of missiles from multiple angles and at multiple points in their flight path. Trilateral cooperation might also soothe some of the enduring tensions between South Korea and Japan over the latter's militarist past.
All of this is so plainly beneficial that it comes as no surprise that China and Russia are pressing Seoul not to deploy Thaad. China's Xinhua news agency has warned that by integrating into U.S.-led regional missile defenses, Seoul would "sacrifice its fast-developing relations with China." China's Foreign Ministry has instructed South Korean decision makers to "take into account others' security concerns as well as regional peace and stability," a sentiment echoed by Russian officials.
South Korea now trades more with China than with the U.S. and Japan combined, so Beijing has real leverage. Ms. Park took her first overseas trip to Beijing after becoming president in 2013, has met Chinese leader Xi Jinping six times, and was an honored guest at his military parade last month marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. She has also remained mute as the U.S. and other Asian democracies have grown alarmed over China's aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas.
As an alternative to Thaad, Ms. Park could go for an indigenous_and weaker_antiballistic missile system. But that's still under development, leaving South Korea vulnerable to Pyongyang's blackmail and belligerence. Thaad also seems to have the backing of South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo, who called the system "helpful to our security and defense."
Ms. Park appears not to have made a decision, and officials won't comment on their discussions. Some of our sources suspect Ms. Park may only embrace Thaad after North Korea's next nuclear or missile test. The better course is to announce a system upgrade without waiting for a provocation from Pyongyang, much less permission from Beijing. It would be a useful reminder to both regimes that democracies have the technological capabilities, and moral will, to defend themselves.
The Boston Herald on Trump's 9/11 comments.
There's nothing like 20/20 hindsight. It's as easy as it is politically cheap.
So still topping the latest Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald primary poll, Donald Trump doubled-down on his assault on President George W. Bush.
"The statement was made that 'under my brother, we were safe,'?" Trump said yesterday on Boston Herald Radio, referring to an exchange with GOP rival Jeb Bush. "But I said 'wait a minute, we weren't safe because the World Trade Center just came down, thousands of people were killed, it was horrific.' It was the greatest attack in the history of this country, so you can't say we were safe."
It's one thing to be the clown prince of the primary season by beating up on news anchors, but quite another to rewrite the history of this nation's darkest day and the man who with his steady resolve and devotion to duty led us out of that day — and, yes, made us safer in countless ways.
Now Trump is falling back on Jeb's failure to use the past tense.
"We were not safe because of the World Trade Center," Trump insisted yesterday. "If he (Jeb) would have said 'we were after,' but even then, he (George W. Bush) took us into the war in Iraq, which was a huge mistake because there were no weapons of mass destruction."
Trump yesterday also held President Bush, who on 9/11 had been in office less than nine months, responsible for decades of intelligence stove-piping.
"The FBI and the CIA and various agencies were not talking to each other," Trump said. They didn't like each other, they were jealous of each other, and a lot of things skipped through."
All true. But who was the one man to successfully tackle that problem, to propose and get passed legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, a director of National Intelligence, the Patriot Act?
That would be George W. Bush.
Memo to Trump: Bloviating is easy. Telling the truth is hard.
The Orange County Register on campus gun-free zones:
In the wake of the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 707, authored by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which prohibits those licensed to carry a concealed weapon from bringing their firearms onto college campuses. As a result, students are now less safe than they were before.
"People want action," Sen. Wolk said in a statement. "Big steps or small steps, they want action. SB707 won't prevent all campus shootings. But it will make our schools and campuses safer by working to ensure that the only people allowed to carry guns on campuses are law enforcement."
But if someone is intent on breaking laws against murder, it is safe to assume that laws creating "gun-free zones" will not deter them. In fact, in many cases, it seems to attract them, as they can feel comforted knowing that they will be able to wreak their havoc upon a large number of helpless victims unable to fight back.
This is why the mayor of Jerusalem, whose city recently has been witness to a number of public stabbing attacks, had just the opposite reaction. "In many cases, those who neutralize terrorists in times like these are citizens, not police officers," Mayor Nir Barkat said. "I urge people who are allowed to carry weapons and are experienced in using them to carry their guns with them."
While some fear average citizens carrying weapons in public, "Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding," according to a study this year by the Crime Prevention Research Center. It found that they commit only about one-sixth the rate of firearms violations as police.
As Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, argued during debate on SB707 on the Assembly Floor, concealed guns carried by law-abiding citizens can be a great equalizer, particularly for young women. "If I'm walking down the street at night, my Glock puts me on (an) even footing with anybody that would ever try to come and hurt me," she said.
It is natural to want to "do something" to prevent tragedies like the Umpqua shooting, but depriving students, faculty and other school employees of their constitutional rights and the best means of defending themselves in such a horrific circumstance only increases the likelihood that even more lives will be needlessly lost.
China Daily on China's economy
That is why the China factor counts so heavily in so many aspects of the present-day global economic picture. And why the size factor should never be ignored when appreciating the true picture of China.
The Global Wealth Report 2015, issued by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, is making headlines here, for such statements as China has taken Japan's place and become "the second richest" in terms of household wealth worldwide, and its claim that China's middle class is now larger than that in the United States.
The reliability of the conclusions aside, these assertions are all about size.
As with many other size-based calculations, the picture appears instantly different when our unrivalled population base factors in.
No matter how many millionaires we reportedly have, no matter how fast our middle class has reportedly expanded, and no matter how many luxury items Chinese tourists brought home from overseas trips, this country remains a developing country, where the average income remains low and the wealth gaps wide.
According to the same Credit Suisse report, the average Chinese household wealth is still roughly one-tenth of its Japanese counterpart.
That is precisely why a one-sided emphasis on the "big picture" can be dangerously deceiving.
But statements like these, which leave the crucial population factor out, tend to distract people from the actual wealth gaps that exist between regions as well as members of society.
Unlike eye-pleasing "big pictures", these gaps, if left unattended, may brew very real problems. Problems that promise to affect everyone, rich and poor.
That is why the recent central government proposal to incorporate the vast underdeveloped rural areas into the national e-commerce network is a smart one. Narrowing the "digital gap" between rural and urban areas will surely be conducive to handling the corresponding wealth gaps, because it can indeed bring out-of-the-way areas directly into the national market.
However, the country's official Gini coefficient, a gauge of economic inequality, has been hovering at a worryingly high level for years, slightly below 0.47 last year. Any figure beyond 0.4 is considered a warning sign.
Therefore the government's latest poverty-alleviation initiative, which aims to lift 70.2 million people above the country's own poverty line in six years, is an ambitious attempt to address the wealth gap for those at the bottom of society and should be realized with sustainable approaches.