Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Aug. 6

Orange County Register on talking to the Taliban and ending the war in Afghanistan:

The Trump administration has reportedly instructed its top diplomats to engage in direct talks with the Taliban. That's a welcome and important step toward ending the wasteful war in Afghanistan.

A preliminary discussion was held last month in Qatar, the Washington Post reported, after The New York Times broke the initial story. "We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue," a Taliban official said.

While it is too soon to say what might come of such talks, engaging with the Taliban is a critical development in winding down the conflict.

After all, according to a BBC study published earlier this year, the Taliban remains active in 70 percent of the country even after 17 years of conflict.

At the very least, the effort should be made to seek a peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan.

The alternative — perpetual war with no prospects for a diplomatic resolution, or any resolution, for that matter — has proven to be a deadly, costly and futile effort.

For 17 years, the United States has been bogged down in Afghanistan with little to show for it.

Even the notion that the U.S. must remain there to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a "safe haven" for terrorists falls apart when one realizes Afghanistan is still a safe haven for groups that want to do Americans harm.

"The Afghanistan war is almost old enough to vote, and we have more groups that want to launch attacks against the U.S. operating there than we did when we started," Caitlin Forrest from the Institute for the Study of War told The New York Times.

ISIS, for example, did not exist when the U.S. launched its quixotic "war on terror," yet it now operates in countries around the world, including Afghanistan.

American blood and treasure has been expended in pursuit of a conflict that has long since lost any discernible set of goals. And, victory in Afghanistan has been elusive in large part because what victory would actually entail hasn't properly been defined.

President Trump, to his credit, has repeatedly expressed criticism of America's wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. In April, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, told the Washington Post that the president was inclined to end the war in Afghanistan.

"The president told me over and over again in general we're getting the hell out of there," Paul said. "I think the president's instincts and inclination are to resolve the Afghan conflict."

Perhaps the talks are a sign of things to come.

If President Trump can preside over the end of the war in Afghanistan, it will be a commendable achievement which will save American lives and taxpayer money.

The sooner the war ends, the better.

Online: https://www.ocregister.com/

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Aug. 3

The New York Times on Pope Francis declaring capital punishment unambiguously wrong:

Pope Francis's condemnation of capital punishment is simple and unambiguous: It is inadmissible. No exceptions for especially heinous crimes; no loopholes allowing execution when other lives might be in jeopardy, as in past Catholic teachings. No, declared the pope; state-sanctioned killing is always an unjustifiable attack on the dignity of human life, it's always wrong.

That it is. It is an arbitrary and hugely expensive barbarism whose victims in the United States are often black, poor or mentally disturbed — and sometimes innocent. Over the past 45 years, when 1,479 people were executed in this country, 162 people sentenced to death have been exonerated. All the arguments for executing criminals have been debunked: It is useless as a deterrent and it does not save lives by getting rid of murderers. Many countries, including nearly all Western democracies with the shameful exception of the United States, have rejected it.

Since his election to the papacy five years ago, Francis has introduced a less formal, more pragmatic and progressive approach to his ministry, taking strong stands on issues like climate change and consumerism.

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The church's new position on the death penalty carries no formal punishment for defying it, but in eliminating any ambiguity it does compel Catholic officials at least to find concrete reasons to not abide by it. Four Supreme Court justices are Catholic, as is Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for the court; among governors, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, a Catholic and staunch supporter of the death penalty, has already declared that he will not block an execution scheduled for this month.

There will also be conservative Catholics who reject the pope's reasoning for changing his church's teaching on capital punishment after centuries in which it was tolerated. A letter to bishops accompanying the revised teaching explained at length that it was a development of the teachings of the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, reflecting changes in awareness that had taken place in recent times.

Yet the importance of the pope's definitive rejection of capital punishment is not solely for Catholics, or for Christians, as the Vatican made clear in saying that the church would work "for its abolition worldwide."

Capital punishment has been long abandoned across Europe and indefinitely suspended in Russia, and even in the United States its use has been declining for years. ...And though 31 states still allow the death penalty, only 10 have carried out executions since 2014.

The man awaiting execution in Nebraska is a prime example of the absurdity of capital punishment. Carey Dean Moore, now 60, has been on death row for 38 years and few Nebraskans remember what he was condemned for. How taking his life would serve justice is a mystery even to many state legislators, who voted to repeal the death penalty in 2015, only to have Governor Ricketts lead a campaign to restore it.

President Trump would most likely be on Mr. Ricketts' side, not the pope's. ...

In fact, very few of those who have been executed or are on death row committed anything as monstrous as that terror attack by Sayfullo Saipov, who is awaiting trial. Yet even the most serious crimes, in Pope Francis's view, do not deprive the perpetrator of the "dignity of the person," and modern prisons are fully capable of protecting citizens from him or her.

For those who have long opposed capital punishment as cruel and pointless, as has this page, the only lingering question is why the Catholic Church or any religious denomination that still condones executions would take so long to recognize that they are simply inadmissible. The same can be asked of Americans, whose Constitution so clearly prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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Aug. 5

The Wall Street Journal on denuclearization of North Korea:

The U.S. and North Korea are again publicly disagreeing about progress toward the North's denuclearization, and that's no surprise. This was likely to happen once President Trump agreed to "phased" progress and dropped demands that the North agree up front to reveal and dismantle weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been in Asia urging the region's leaders to tighten enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea. That prompted the North's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to accuse the U.S. of violating the denuclearization agreement President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed in Singapore in June.

The text calls for "simultaneous actions and phased steps," and the North has returned U.S. soldiers' remains and dismantled a missile test site as promised. So the North figures why isn't the U.S. relaxing sanctions instead of trying to tighten them?

Let's look at this with North Korean logic. Yes, it is continuing its nuclear and missile programs, which violates the spirit of the Singapore agreement. But there was no timetable or specifics on how the North would denuclearize. Pyongyang figures it has kept its side of the bargain, and now it's the U.S. turn to give something on sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration says progress toward North Korean denuclearization is still being made. Mr. Pompeo says he's confident that Kim remains committed to that goal, and Mr. Trump boasts at rallies that the North hasn't launched a missile test in months. So perhaps Mr. Ri figures the North isn't doing anything wrong by using this time to keep building its nuclear arsenal.

A U.N. report submitted Friday and leaked to the press sums up the U.S. problem. The North's production of ICBMs and nuclear material for warheads continues. Ship-to-ship trade in petroleum and coal in violation of sanctions has increased massively this year. The North's exports of textiles are still strong, and it is getting around financial sanctions. It is trying to sell weapons to Syria and the Houthis.

Recent satellite imagery shows that the North has added two buildings at its missile-production facility near Pyongyang as well as new facilities at its nuclear-enrichment facility in Yongbyon. It has expanded a facility in Hamhung that makes solid-fuel missile components. The U.S. acknowledges that the North probably has a uranium-enrichment plant at Kangson, which means it has more material to build bombs than previously estimated.

The Journal reported last week that Russia registered 10,000 new North Korean workers this year, in violation of U.N. sanctions. Mr. Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley criticized Russia for violating sanctions, and the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a Russian bank on Friday for handling North Korean transactions.

This action is welcome but it amounts to scrambling to make up for the concessions Mr. Trump made to Mr. Kim in Singapore. The North will insist on further U.S. concessions for even the smallest step toward denuclearization. So far the North hasn't even turned over a complete list of its weapons and facilities.

Meanwhile, with Mr. Trump bragging that he has ended the North Korean nuclear threat, the global sanctions regime erodes because Russia and China feel no pressure to enforce them. The prospect of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization looks further away now than it was before Singapore.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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Aug. 8

The Japan News says the United States must find pathways to ease tension with Iran over the nuclear deal:

Will the United States' merely increasing sanctions pressure on Iran lead to the stability of the Middle East? The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump must respond prudently, so as not to cause any unexpected developments or turmoil in the world economy.

The United States has reimposed certain economic sanctions against Iran, prohibiting transactions with Iran's automotive and related sectors — the country's key industry — and in such areas as steel and aluminum. Companies in third-party countries that fail to comply with U.S. sanctions will be subject to such penalties as being expelled from the U.S. market or slapped with fines.

Trump issued a statement emphasizing that the United States will continue applying maximum economic pressure on Iran and that he will remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses Iran's activities, including its ballistic missile development and its support for terrorism.

He probably intends to pressure Iran to make concessions, as he did to realize the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, by intensifying pressure on Pyongyang. In July, he even proposed direct talks with Iran.

The problem is that Trump's policy toward Iran is devoid of proper strategy and he clearly seems to be aiming to impress voters with his hard-line posture ahead of the midterm elections in November.

In the 2015 nuclear accord, the United States and European countries lifted their economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limitations on Iran's nuclear program. Trump decided to withdraw from the accord, which the previous administration viewed as one of its achievements, and he reimposed the sanctions following a 90-day grace period.

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On Nov. 5, the United States plans to resume all remaining sanctions on Iran, including those targeting crude oil-related transactions and the financial sector. Should the crude oil supply stagnate from Iran, one of the world's leading oil producers, it will inevitably have an adverse impact on the economy, such as steep rises in crude oil prices.

Britain, France and Germany have indicated their policy of protecting European companies that have expanded into Iran. China, Russia and India are also highly likely to continue their trading with Iran.

As long as the nuclear accord has been functioning effectively in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the United States will not be able to win wide support from other countries for its measures.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted that the United States should call for a dialogue only after the country suspends its sanctions on Tehran. His moderate policies aimed at reconciliation with other countries and attracting foreign investments will undoubtedly be imperiled further. Already the decline in the value of Iran's rial currency and the rise in commodity prices have become serious.

It is worrisome that Iran recently held military drills near the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf, while the country has hinted at blockading the strait.

Most of the crude oil produced in the Middle East passes through the Strait of Hormuz, and is then transported to foreign countries, including Japan. Both the United States and Iran have to avoid a head-on conflict and ease tensions.

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Online: http://the-japan-news.com

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Aug. 7

Miami Herald on 3D-printed guns and free speech:

The debate over 3D-printed guns blew up last week. Many people rightly see this issue as being about the Second Amendment right to bear arms, it's also about the First Amendment and free speech.

The plans for a basic 3D-printed gun have been around for a couple of years, but the federal government prohibited online publication. Texas-based Defense Distributed challenged that policy in court. The case dragged on for a couple of years until the Trump administration recently settled. Online publication could start Aug. 1.

That got people's attention. Americans would quickly fall victim to a rash of plastic gun violence, gun control advocates said. The weapons are untraceable, can pass through a metal detector, don't have a serial number and can be made by felons. Several state attorneys general sued to have the prohibition reinstated and won a temporary injunction.

Everything those advocates say is true. Allowing people to make unregulated 3D-printed plastic guns will create serious challenges and consequences. However, the stifling of free speech can't get lost in the mix.

Anyone who really wants a gun without a background check is far more likely to get it at a gun show or illegally on the streets. Real guns are more effective and cheaper than plastic ones that are good for a handful of shots at best and require a 3D printer that costs thousands of dollars. The government must tread carefully when it limits speech. Indeed, permissible limits are few and deal with imminent threats and clear harms. Child pornography, threatening someone and inciting violent insurrection enjoy no First Amendment protection.

The plans for a gun, in and of themselves, make no threat and cause no harm. The danger lies in what people might do with the plans. But free speech does not end because publication of an idea creates a potential hazard. If it did, too many important ideas would be silenced.

Federal courts have long upheld this notion. For example, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in an otherwise distasteful case, "The constitutional protection accorded to the freedom of speech and of the press is not based on the naïve belief that speech can do no harm but on the confidence that the benefits society reaps from the free flow and exchange of ideas outweigh the costs society endures by receiving reprehensible or dangerous ideas."

An eclectic group of free-speech supporters sided with Defense Distributed in the case. First Amendment champions the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the Electronic Frontier Foundation joined libertarian-minded groups the Cato Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation filing amicus briefs.

Anyone can find plans for bombs and instructions on how to make drugs online. Such documents circulated even before the Internet. Government does not prohibit that speech, but it does prohibit bombs and drugs. Laws target the act, not the words.

If 3D-printed guns are untraceable "ghost guns," require a state-issued serial number and a piece of metal, as California does, and a gunsmith license, as New York is considering. Congress and state legislatures are not powerless. They can mitigate, though probably not entirely prevent, the danger of 3D-printed guns without trampling the First Amendment.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com

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Aug. 7

Los Angeles Times on President Donald Trump and fires in California:

Some Donald Trump tweets are so bizarre that you have to puzzle over them and inject a bit of sense into them before you can finally dismiss them as the wingnut drivel that they are. So it is with the president's recent tweets on California's fire and water.

"California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren't allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean," Trump thumbed on Sunday.

He kept at it on Monday.

"Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water — Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals."

It almost sounds like he's saying that California is burning because all the water that otherwise would be flowing out of fire hoses is instead being flushed into the sea. Or perhaps he's arguing that the state would be lush and drought-free if only we stopped the rivers from running. Or something.

The argument is so weird that even his supporters in the state's agriculture industry appear mystified.

What San Joaquin Valley farmers do want is more delivery of river water to their crops. They oppose recommendations by the State Water Resources Control Board to increase flows in the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers in order to stem environmental damage caused by decades of water diversions for agricultural and urban use. Maybe Trump thought he was sticking up for his agricultural allies.

And isn't it just like Trump to refer to water being "diverted" from rivers to the ocean. That's where rivers flow — to the ocean. Diversion is when water is removed from its natural course and instead used for irrigation and urban faucets. Californians survive on a moderate level of that diversion but will perish if we overdo it.

There has been no shortage of water for firefighters. Much of the state is in flames because of record heat and drought — a phenomenon that scientists say is at least in part a result of human-caused climate change.

Trump calls climate change a hoax — an invention, he has said, of the Chinese government to undermine U.S. manufacturing. He rejects the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are making the planet hotter.

Now, adding injury to insult, he is seeking to freeze fuel economy standards and to revoke the Clean Air Act waiver that allows California to require stricter standards on tailpipe emissions than the federal government's.

Trump ignores climate change and tweets his absurd musings about environmental laws and water at a time when fires have killed nine people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and caused the evacuation of thousands. It reminds us of someone else, way back in Roman days. If only Trump had a fiddle instead of Twitter.

Online: http://www.latimes.com