Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Knoxville News Sentinel on devastating fires in Gatlinburg:
When dawn broke over Gatlinburg on Tuesday, hearts broke as well throughout the region and across the country.
Fueled by autumn leaves and drought-parched conditions, whipped by winds approaching 90 miles an hour, wildfires swept out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the resort town Monday night.
Flames consumed cabins and chalets, torched businesses and laid waste to resorts and residences. At least three people are confirmed dead.
The thoughts and prayers of East Tennesseans, joined by those who have fond memories of vacations in Gatlinburg, go out to those affected by the disaster.
"This is a fire for the history books," Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a Tuesday morning news conference as 14 structures continued to burn. "The likes of this has never been seen here."
Gov. Bill Haslam, who took an aerial tour of the devastation that he said left him numb, said it was the worst fire in 100 years in Tennessee.
An estimated 14,000 people fled. At least 14 people received medical treatment, and three were in critical condition Tuesday at Vanderbilt Medical Center's burn center in Nashville. Authorities still are going house to house, searching for anyone who was unable to escape.
The damage assessment is incomplete, but initial reports indicate the difference between miracle and misfortune was razor thin. Two dormitories at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts burned down, but the rest of the campus survived. Ripley's Aquarium, home to more than 10,000 animals, also was spared.
While the damage is widespread, businesses along the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg sustained far less damage than structures in other parts of town, according to City Manager Cindy Ogle. Ogle's home was destroyed. Mayor Mike Werner was among those who lost his home and his business. Outside Gatlinburg, scores of homes in Wears Valley and Cobbly Nob were incinerated.
First responders, some of whom have been fighting wildfires for weeks, continue to fight fires and clear roadways. Hundreds of firefighters from across the state and as far away as California joined the battle, and more than 100 members of the Tennessee National Guard have deployed in Sevier County. They have fought flames and fatigue with equal determination and bravery.
The humanitarian response has been just as inspiring. The American Red Cross is providing shelter and coordinating donations. In Knoxville, items can be donated at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. Numerous businesses, including Sevier County restaurants, also are providing aid. East Tennesseans went to social media to offer spare bedrooms to anyone who needed accommodations.
We mourn the loss of life while praising the emergency responders who kept the death toll remarkably low. The generosity of ordinary citizens in East Tennessee and beyond is heartening.
The damage to the Smokies' gateway community is enormous, and rebuilding will be a long-term challenge. Scars likely will remain visible for years. However, the residents of Gatlinburg and the rest of Sevier County are tough, proud and resilient. Their spirit will rise from the ruins.
The Miami Herald on Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro:
Donald Trump got it right upon Fidel Castro's death on Friday, even if the president-elect was simply stating the obvious: "The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades," Mr. Trump said in a statement hours after Castro's death was announced.
"Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Since then, Mr. Trump has reiterated his harsh and hard line vowing to rescind President Obama's normalization of relations with the still-oppressed island nation.
But the Editorial Board thinks that Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo got it "righter" when he said at a weekend press conference: "Only the Cuban people can free Cuba."
After more than 50 years, the United States' hardline policies did little to effect change in Cuba under Fidel Castro. Human rights remained an unrealized dream for Cubans. And, unfortunately, after almost two years of this country's normalized relations with Cuba, they still are elusive.
Again, Mr. Trump is right to criticize the lack of concessions made by the Cuban regime since Mr. Obama announced the stunning diplomatic thaw in December 2014. The Board, too, has repeatedly stated its disappointment.
However, for the United States, the overarching realization should remain this: Change is coming in Cuba. It is inevitable.
Raul Castro has said publicly that he will step down in 2018. And though the U.S. embargo should remain in place until there is movement toward freedoms, isolation " a pragmatic policy, perhaps, for the mid-20th century " is not the smart path for the 21st.
Our advice as the new administration takes over: Let the Cubans do it. A new generation that has seen their parents, and their grandparents, survive the oppressive regime damaged, but with dignity, will not be denied control of their lives. Not in the time of Yoani Snchez. Not while the Ladies in White march unbowed and unafraid. Not with the internet and cell phones.
These are not a helpless people, and U.S. policy should not treat them as if they are.
Cuba is better off without Fidel Castro. His death is a blow to the old guard, which considered him indestructible. The repressive machinery is still in place, but if the history of the region " and around the world " is any signpost, the Cuban system cannot defy indefinitely the rules of political gravity any more than Castro could defy mortality. The pull has been toward democracy in the hemisphere. Papa Doc, Trujillo and their ilk have come and gone.
In Venezuela, the president insists on keeping Fidel Castro's twisted dream alive, despite the human toll. His buffoonery is proof that it's a failed vision.
Last year, Freedom House reported that, "After years of civil war, the region experienced a remarkable change of course, in large measure due to patient American diplomacy. Death squads were suppressed, the left abandoned violent insurrection, and elections brought to power parties of the center-right and center-left.
"Between 1980 and 2014, nearly every Central American country experienced significant gains in (democratic freedoms.) Only Honduras lost ground, and Costa Rica maintained its already strong performance. The biggest improvements took place in El Salvador and Guatemala, which had been notorious for the brutality of their regimes."
History's arc has bent toward freedom. The Cuban people should take the lead, with U.S. encouragement, rather than a heavy hand.
The Augusta Chronicle, Georgia, on Donald Trump's Twitter account:
From the daily news reports, you get the impression the Trump administration is already collapsing on itself.
Since the election, the nation's news syndicates have produced an unending string of nearly apocalyptic Tales of Dread. The transition is too slow! His chief counselor is a "conservative provocateur" and "controversial conservative firebrand" who may be anti-Semitic! Trump's children may be helping pick the Cabinet! Foreign policy may change! His appointments are scary " and maybe even "anti-Islamist"!
He may be planning "extreme vetting" of immigrants and refugees! It's been two weeks since the election, and Trump still hasn't cut his lifelong business ties!
Give the man a chance. He's forming a new administration from scratch " and as a political newcomer, it really is from scratch. But as a savvy businessman, he's doing a thorough job of screening candidates.
Moreover, his meeting with Mitt Romney " who bitterly opposed Trump during the campaign " is a tremendous gesture of the kind of good will presidents should engender.
Having said that, we would caution the president-elect: Get rid of your Twitter account and grow some extra layers of skin.
Mr. Trump has become legendary for knee-jerk reactions to his critics, often in "tweets" that come at all hours of the day and night.
And when he hosted several dozen top news reporters, anchors and executives for an off-the-record summit recently, he was reportedly so critical of them that one source described it as "a (bleeping) firing squad."
As evidenced by the above, and by the horrid, biased reporting during the general election campaign, the news folks deserve a good talking-to. But you have to wonder if that was the most advantageous, or presidential, thing Mr. Trump could've done.
He has a history of trying to ban news agencies and reporters he feels have done him wrong. As president, that simply won't be acceptable, and it won't work.
Indeed, President Obama tried to ban Fox News, but thankfully their rivals at other news agencies wouldn't stand for it.
As names of his possible presidential press secretary began surfacing recently, it got us to thinking: Were it us being considered for the job, we would accept it only on the condition that the administration never attempt to marginalize or ostracize the press corps.
We realize that as a CEO and celebrity, Mr. Trump may be accustomed to favoring certain media people and outlets over others. That was his prerogative as a private citizen.
As president, he will have joined a long-running Kabuki dance between the White House and press corps. They report, sometimes distort, watching like an eagle for one misstep on the part of the executive. He, in turn, smiles and tangos on.
A free people simply won't have it any other way.
There are already signs that Mr. Trump is growing into the role of president " including his meeting with Romney. But again, the role involves a skin as tough as old shoe leather.
He needn't look far for such an example. When his vice president-elect, Mike Pence, was booed and lectured on Broadway recently, he shrugged to his family, "that's what freedom sounds like."
Donald Trump needs to train his ears for it.
The Orange County Register on a more aggressive North Korea policy:
And then there was one " one unreconstructed communist regime in the world.
It's hard to picture a more fitting symbol of capitalism's triumph over communism than the death of Fidel Castro on Black Friday. Though Cuba remains a dictatorship, its attachment to its revolutionary ideology seems very likely to steadily weaken. That leaves just a single nation devoted to the cause. Unfortunately for the world, it's North Korea.
Now more than ever, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (as it styles itself) is a sobering and grave reminder of how brutal communism has always been " and how dangerous it remains today and tomorrow.
Part of the danger North Korea poses, of course, is due to its isolation. But its complicity in international crime and nuclear proliferation has shown the North to enjoy all the international companionship it needs to be a powerful force for global evil and harm.
It's also true that the severity of this threat is partly the consequence of the Obama administration's wait-and-see policy of "strategic patience," where Washington refused to negotiate in an effort to get Pyongyang's rulers to abandon their nuclear program.
Now, on its way out the door, the White House has belatedly recognized that the North has no intention of denuclearizing " in fact, just the opposite. Officials have warned Donald Trump's transition team that North Korea's all-out ballistic missile program is so advanced that it should be treated as the new administration's No. 1 national security priority.
Trump's team has received a similar message loud and clear from the head of the last Republican administration. In recent public remarks, George W. Bush warned that a far more aggressive policy than "strategic patience" had to be adopted at once. "North Korea represents a grave security threat," he counseled. "It shows how the proliferation of a deadly technology can allow small leaders, failed, cruel and criminal leaders, to threaten and disrupt the world on a grand scale."
Naturally, Pyongyang has also taken an interest in President-elect Trump's policy preferences. In a recent memorandum, the regime leveled the predictable criticism against the U.S. and the sitting president's adversarial efforts, closing with the usual affirmation that nothing will stop the nuclear program because its tests are not the true source of trouble in the region. Boilerplate this may be, but for North Korea watchers, a new and deeper meaning was on clear display. Very unusually, the memorandum was disseminated in English " an evident attempt to telegraph its openness to direct negotiations to the incoming Trump administration.
Trump's own recent words have given the North reason to believe such a message might not be rejected out of hand. Trump has suggested previously, for instance, that he might consider communicating personally with Kim Jong Un.
To mark Fidel Castro's death, Pyongyang imposed three days of mourning on its beleaguered people, adding insult to decade upon decade of injury. Although neither carrots nor sticks may work as well on North Korea as on Cuba, America's new administration will face an undeniable opportunity to help ensure that the number of communist regimes blighting the Earth's surface finally drops to zero.
The Columbus Dispatch on the car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University:
Much remains to be explained in the attack at Ohio State University on Monday that left one person dead and nine others injured. But it appears that law enforcement, university officials and students all played an important role in bringing the attack to a quick end.
The incident began at 9:52 a.m., when an OSU student identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove a vehicle into pedestrians near Watts Hall and then emerged from the car and began slashing people with a knife. Within moments, the assailant was challenged, then shot and killed by a university police officer. More than an hour passed as campus police, officers from the Columbus Police Division and Franklin County deputy sheriffs secured the scene and determined that the assailant had no accomplice.
The university sent out its first Buckeye Alert text message at 9:55, advising students and staff to "Shelter in place/be observant/take action as needed. Public Safety responding." Students did their part by remaining calm, following directions and staying out of the way of officers as they worked to ensure that the threat had been eliminated.
At 11:14 a.m. the "shelter in place" order was lifted and by 11:30 a.m., the incident was declared at an end, though the university canceled classes for the rest of the day and some buildings remained closed.
Thanks also are owed to emergency medical workers who responded, and to Wexner Medical Center, OhioHealth Grant Medical Center and OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, each of whom cared for some of the victims. Some had been stabbed and others were suffering injuries sustained when the car hit them.
The courage of police and emergency medical personnel responding to such an incident shouldn't be underestimated. When something like this happens, there is no way for responders to know what they are rushing into. Initially, there were reports that there was more than one assailant. The use of a car to attack pedestrians naturally is a reminder of the attack in Nice, France, last summer in which a terrorist used a truck to run over and kill more than 80 people.
This is a shocking event, but everyone involved can be proud of their response, which ended the attack quickly and ensured that the victims received prompt medical attention.
London Evening Standard on affordable housing in London:
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement was hardly a bonanza but it did include 3.15 billion of funding for 90,000 new affordable homes in London. The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, will outline how that will be spent today. Meanwhile, his housing team has issued planning guidance for future development and it has caused a rumpus in the London Assembly, since it appears that developers will be given favourable treatment if their schemes include only 35 per cent affordable housing rather than the half that the Mayor originally said he wanted. Tory housing spokesman Andrew Boff suggested that the Mayor is reneging on his commitment: "This has become a long-term aspiration."
Certainly, Mr Khan was at best overly optimistic during his mayoral campaign in committing to a 50 per cent target for the affordable element of new projects; he will have been aware that this would require the support and co-operation of property developers. For them, 50 per cent was too much. But Mr Khan is nothing if not pragmatic; he is going for the best deal in the circumstances and the Chancellor's gift will help. He is right to do this. Voters will simply be warier of future mayoral pledges.
But we shall have to see what happens in the building of more affordable and, importantly, social housing. It seems that of the Chancellor's grant, around 60,000 homes will be a mix of London Living Rent schemes " where rent is a third of the average local household income " as well as shared ownership, and around 29,000 will be for councils' "affordable rent" housing with a benchmark of 153 per week, excluding service charge, for a two-bed home. This mixed model is the right way to go for London.
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings