Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on gun control struggle a constitutional one:
Didn't we fight the Civil War over whether federal law prevails over states' rights?
Now, conservative lawmakers in several states are attempting to organize defiance of certain federal laws, beginning with gun control. Their idea is that if enough states band together, they can overwhelm Uncle Sam's enforcement power.
A measure introduced last week in the Missouri Legislature seeks to prevent some federal gun control regulations from being enforced. State law enforcement officers who attempt to enforce the federal rules would be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
That body came within one vote of passing a similar measure last year. This year's proposal, The Associated Press reported, delays the effective date of the rebellious rules to give other states time to join the cause.
Sounding for all the world like a Confederate organizer, one Missouri senator said, "We continue to see the federal government overreach their rightful bounds, and if we can create a situation where we have some unity among states, then I think it puts us in a better position to make that argument."
Courts have consistently ruled that states do not have the power to nullify federal laws, but that doesn't keep the restless from trying.
Last year, for example, a federal appeals court struck down a 2009 Montana law that would bar federal regulation of guns that are made in that state and which remain within its borders.
Open defiance is not the right path. The proper arena for this struggle is neither Fort Sumter nor the Supreme Court, but Congress. Obviously, many Americans sympathize with the objection to gun control laws, so let their elected representatives sort this out, using the procedure spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.
Miami Herald on rebuilding is replacing recovery, but serious challenges remain:
Four long and painful years after a cataclysmic earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince and much of Haiti, the country is emerging from the depths of the disaster. Rebuilding is replacing recovery. A measure of order is replacing the chaos of the early years.
Most of the rubble is gone. Where once the capital's streets and surrounding areas housed 1,500 makeshift camps for about 1.5 million refugees, the numbers were down considerably near year's end: 175,000 remained in 306 camps. Ten new hurricane shelters are being built, the country boasts 180-plus miles of newly paved roads, there are 46 new health centers and seven new hospitals. And so on.
This is progress, but hold the applause. The numbers don't tell the full story.
Too much time has been wasted in recriminations among the government of President Michel Martelly, donor nations and the international aid groups that receive much of the money directly. Political disarray has blocked elections. Tens of thousands were forcibly evicted from camps, with no safe place to go, and many more face the same prospect in 2014.
Billions of dollars in promised aid remain undisbursed, and international investment has been slow to arrive because of a lack of confidence in the government. Nearly 700,000 suspected cases of cholera have been detected, some 8,500 victims have died and the epidemic still rages.
Progress has come in fits and starts. The government is not all-powerful. Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe cannot wave a magic wand and resolve all the issues blocking the pace of recovery, but they are not helpless, either.
If Lamothe wants the international community to "trust us, give us the benefit of the doubt" — as he told Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles in an interview — when it comes to receiving and disbursing aid funds, he must work harder to gain that trust by improving the transparency of his government.
The failure to hold elections has done much to tarnish Haiti's political class and undermine confidence in the government. The voting has been delayed for more than two years, which is simply unacceptable.
On this fourth anniversary of the earthquake, the Obama administration could take no better action to demonstrate its avowed concern for Haiti than to make good on its promise.
New York Times on eradicating polio everywhere:
It has been three years since the last new case of polio was reported in India. The country can now be declared polio-free. India's victory is an important milestone in the global effort to eliminate polio. In 2013, just 250 people were paralyzed by polio. But the viral disease remains a threat. The World Health Organization reported 359 new polio cases as of Dec. 10, 2013, up from 213 in December 2012. And the number of countries where polio is present rose to eight from four between December 2012 and December 2013, with polio spreading out of Nigeria into the Horn of Africa and from Pakistan into the Middle East. Violent conflict and distrust of vaccination programs are to blame.
Cases of polio in Pakistan, where skepticism of vaccination efforts remains after the revelation that the United States Central Intelligence Agency used a fake vaccination program in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, rose to 85 in 2013 from 58 in 2012. The W.H.O. also reported 17 confirmed cases and 60 suspected cases of polio in 2013 in and along the borders of war-torn Syria, a country that had been free of polio for 14 years.
With eradication of polio so close, these nations need to redouble efforts to combat the disease. India can play a vital role. It has welcomed experts from polio-affected countries and has sent medical officers to Nigeria to help with eradication initiatives there. Pakistan is also enhancing its efforts. It has raised the salaries of vaccinators, created police and army escorts to ensure their safety and enlisted mullahs and imams to calm fears that vaccination is a Western plot.
In the most violent polio-affected areas, warring factions and rebel groups must be persuaded to embrace Unicef's strategy where they agree to cease hostilities long enough for health workers to reach vulnerable populations. India's technical and logistical success and Pakistan's efforts to enlist trusted local leaders are important examples to follow. All of these tactics will be necessary to eradicate polio in 2014 and to ensure that by 2018 this terrible virus is gone for good.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on solving Iran:
Negotiations on Iran's nuclear program and the international economic sanctions against it took another step forward Sunday as the two sides reached agreement on a starter deal.
The United States has three negotiations going, all related to the Middle East. These are the Israeli-Palestinian talks, the Syrian peace talks set to begin in Switzerland Jan. 22 and the Iran discussions.
The agreement reached in Geneva, with Secretary of State John Kerry leading the U.S. delegation, contains a complex series of measures, but the basic thrust is that Iran will freeze its nuclear program and accept extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency while the other countries involved take steps to ease the economic pressures on Iran.
All of it is subject to reversal and all of it is temporary, with the truly difficult negotiations still ahead. At the same time, the accord that has been reached is an important step in reducing Iran's nuclear threat to Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors. On the other side, it eases up on the punitive actions the United States and other Western countries have imposed on Iran's leaders and its 80 million people.
Opposition to the agreement exists in both the United States and Iran from hardliners. In Washington they are influenced by part of the lobby for Israel, which opposes any measure it considers to be a concession to Iran, even if it involves placing strict limits on that country's nuclear program. In Iran, opposition comes from the element in its politics that still seeks to promote hatred of America.
Fortunately, discouraging Congress from hamstringing Kerry's negotiations by putting new sanctions on Iran is the presence of the world's major powers with the United States on the international side of the table: China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.
This is a positive development for peace in the Middle East, as well as an opening in U.S.-Iranian relations, which have been frozen since 1979. It was welcomed significantly in an interview with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a Sunni Muslim state and an American ally. Everyone else should see it as good news, too.
Arizona Republic on anti-abortion cycle to begin anew:
After 41 years of court challenges to Roe vs. Wade, American abortion law is becoming a dense thicket of case law that makes tea-leaf reading difficult when jurists decline to explain their decisions.
That is what happened on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a case involving an Arizona law limiting when a woman could seek an abortion.
Last May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge's ruling that Arizona's 2012 law House Bill 2036 was constitutional.
In its decision, the appeals court panel noted that "controlling Supreme Court precedent" forbids states from denying women the right to an abortion "at any point prior to viability."
Viability — the ability to survive outside the womb — is generally considered to occur at 22 to 24 weeks, not at 20 weeks.
The appeals-court decision affects only Arizona, however.
At least nine other states have laws that ban abortions at 20 weeks, and those laws will remain in effect. If that seems confusing, it should.
It may be that Arizona's law pushed the viability envelope a bit too far. The law is structured so that, in practice, it could affect pregnancies that are only 18 weeks along.
Regardless, we know what the outcome of this non-decision by the high court will be: The process will begin anew.
Advocates who oppose abortion already have declared their intent to bring a new proposal to the Legislature, where it's likely to pass.
Then, it is off to the courts once again. Lawyers need not fear unemployment.
China Daily on triumph of diplomacy:
Calling Sunday's agreement between Iran and the P5+1 "an important step forward", US President Barack Obama emphasized that "now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed". Yet he credited "unprecedented sanctions and tough diplomacy" for the development.
Harsh US sanctions, the main cause of Iran's current economic woes, indeed compelled Teheran to make concessions at the negotiating table. But the Geneva talks would not have reached where they are were it not for the shared willingness to give diplomacy a chance.
The Sunday deal is, in US Secretary of State John Kerry's words, a "critical, significant step". By agreeing on how to implement the first phase of the agreement reached on Nov 24, the negotiators indicated that the fragile diplomatic process to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue remains on track. It inspires optimism about a longer-term deal in the near future, too.
Given the less-than-desirable outcomes of recent US military interventions in the Middle East and beyond, a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is of particular significance for Washington's foreign policy.
The Iraq War has been an absolute failure for the US and a nightmare for Iraqis. It has exposed the moral hollowness of the US' Middle East policy and is a bloody illustration of its ineffectiveness. The promised democracy after regime change is still a daydream in Iraq, where national reconciliation remains elusive, violence rules everyday life and terrorism grows ever stronger.
Things are hardly better in Afghanistan, where people fear the worst following US military withdrawal later this year.
Obama seems to have learned a lesson from his trigger-happy predecessor's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. His interest in negotiating with Iran is an encouraging break worth an active response from Teheran and the broader international community.
The so-far-so-good diplomatic progress on Iran and Syria indicates the handsome reward diplomacy can deliver. But both processes remain volatile, and the deep-rooted distrust accumulated over the decades could derail them at any time. The US Senate bill to impose fresh sanctions on Iran, for instance, has the potential to invalidate all previous peacemaking efforts.
As US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan correctly pointed out, closing the door on diplomacy would very possibly leave her country to "choose between military options or allowing Iran's nuclear program to continue".
For all parties' benefit, diplomacy has to succeed.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on the Cuban thaw:
The emerging thaw in United States-Cuba relations is a welcome development. It is now official that both the countries are engaged in a dialogue process, irrespective of whether it is low-profile or limited to peripheral issues.
Though there are several 'ifs' and 'buts' in the process, and the bar seems to have been set a little higher for the communist state, the positive thing is that substantial progress has been reported. Migration and human rights issues form the core of the dialogue, with trade and tourism also on the two sides' wishlist.
The area where progress could come to naught is the expectations that Washington has of Havana. The US wants to see a 'fundamental change' in the Cuban attitude toward its own people, which sounds rather dictatorial. If memoirs are any testimony, then Cuban President Raul Castro has already given his reaction to such US benchmarks by saying that the island-nation state doesn't want to change or reform America's socio-political governance mosaic, and the superpower would also be better advised not to lecture it on such issues.
Edward Lee, the U.S. state department official who has been on an official visit to the island, is, however, optimistic that the negotiations will click. Lee also said that his country is 'very open' to build a new relationship with Cuba. Though no details are available on the progress that has been made, it is widely assumed that the Johannesburg handshake between President Barack Obama and Raul Castro is working as the spirit to revamp the tangled relationship. The good thing is that the talks are taking place away from media glare, which gives them an added impetus to succeed.