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from The Great Debate:

A 14th Amendment for all centuries

During the 1980s, a colorful Washington figure used to stand in Lafayette Square near the White House holding a sign: “Arrest Me. I Question the Validity of the Public Debt. Repeal Section 4, Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” That section reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” As far as I know, the whimsical “protester” was never arrested; he wasn’t breaking any law. Congressional Republicans, if they force the United States into default on its debt, will be.

Even most journalists and policy wonks hadn’t heard of Section 4 until recently. But with a default on “the public debt” increasingly possible, many now find the subject gripping. What if the House Republican majority decides that they are just too angry to authorize repayment of the debt? They’d be violating the Constitution -- but what would happen to the country, and to them?

During the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, a number of scholars, including me, suggested that President Obama could end the standoff by proclaiming that Section 4 required him, as part of his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” to set aside the debt ceiling and borrow enough money to fund payments on the debt. Obama later said his lawyers told him that was “not a winning argument.” This time around, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has already said that “this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the power to the president to ignore the debt ceiling.”

Nevertheless, it’s useful to understand the history that brought Section 4 into being. Its story has parallels to the political situation in the United States today, almost a century and a half after the 14th Amendment was adopted.

from The Great Debate:

A potential turning point for Syria

In the dizzying debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, one key point of consensus stands out: Both the Obama administration and Congress recognize that the resolution to Syria’s conflict must come through a negotiated settlement. Key international actors share the same conclusion.

But how do we get there? Russia’s recent proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control could open a viable path to a long-sought diplomatic solution.

from The Great Debate:

Obama’s flawed case for a Syria strike

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We should not bomb Syria without a vital national security interest and a precise foreign policy objective.

Right now, the Obama administration has not established either.

Under the United States’ legal and historical precedents, a president faces the highest burden for justifying military attacks that are essentially optional: actions not required for self-defense and which are not in response to an attack on the United States -- or imminent threat of such attack.  Intervening in the Syrian civil war fits that difficult category.

from Photographers' Blog:

On the gruesome battlefield of Gettysburg

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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Gary Cameron

The 150th anniversary and reenactment of the U.S. Civil War battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a story suggested months ago by Reuters Pictures Editor Mike Fiala. Lasting three days, it would include thousands of re-enactors dressed in blue & gray wool uniforms who would live in historically accurate camps with canvas tents, and include 400 horses for cavalry units, with over 200 cannons from both sides to effectively blast each other off the battlefield. Add thousands of rifles and side arms to the mix (all weaponry fires black powder but no shells or bullets in re-enactments), and you have the makings of one very loud display of history, carnage and destruction.

What I did not know is that NO re-enactment battles of Gettysburg would be played out on the actual “hallowed” ground of the 1863 conflict. Two separate re-enactment groups would have their own events, each with versions of the July 1, 2, and 3 battle days, on large nearby farms. Stadium seating similar to those used at professional golf tournaments would accommodate 10,000 fans and border the battlefields.

from Photographers' Blog:

Gettysburg, 150 years on

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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Mark Makela

For the past year, I embraced a fervor of the 1860’s that threaded itself from the 149th through to the 150th Gettysburg reenactments. I traversed thousands of miles across the country, documenting a sub-culture of “hardcore authentics,” Civil War re-enactors who honor the importance of the living history as though the war still rages. They took me in, enlightened me as to what once was, and allowed me to experience the mid-19th century world, set amid a contemporary landscape but transformed by a strict semblance of history.

Even before commencing this long term project, it was clear that all paths pointed towards the Gettysburg 150th anniversary. Thus, I loved the opportunity to cover the finale of the Blue Gray Alliance reenactment for Reuters. As my camera got waterlogged by the rain on Saturday night, I was down to one for Sunday, ultimately making the day that much more memorable. Often I find it’s a boon shooting with only one body. One must at least attempt to envision more of what the situation may be and make many decisions beforehand so as not to be changing lenses during opportune photographic moments. “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera,” Lewis Hine famously quipped, but only having one does save wear and tear on your shoulder.

from The Great Debate:

Civil wars and Syria: lessons from history

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A man at a site recently hit by what activists said was a Scud missile in Aleppo's Ard al-Hamra neighborhood, February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Most of the international debate about Syria policy focuses on how to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

from The Great Debate:

Boehner resurrects the antebellum South

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is now in Williamsburg, Virginia, meeting with his House Republican conference at their annual retreat. The GOP House members have likely gotten over the initial shock of the November elections – in which President Barack Obama won more than 51 percent of the vote and the Democratic majority swelled in the Senate.

Though the Republicans lost House seats and their candidates collected more than a million fewer votes than their Democratic rivals, the GOP retained a majority in the House of Representatives. This consolation prize has allowed Boehner to claim that House Republicans have a mandate every bit as compelling as that earned by the president. Conservative champions Grover Norquist and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed this claim.

from The Great Debate:

Syria as dress rehearsal: Securing WMD in midst of civil war

As Syria’s civil war spirals into mounting violence, the Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpile is generating increased anxiety throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Taking precautionary measures, the United States has reportedly placed 150 “planners and other specialists” in Jordan to work on contingencies -- including the chemical weapons threat.

As odd as it may seem, however, we are lucky that Syria’s chemical stockpile marks Damascus’s most serious weapons of mass destruction risk.  Had Israel not bombed the country’s weapons reactor in 2007, the embattled nation -- and the rest of us – could have been staring at the globe's first civil war with a nuclear dimension.

from Photographers' Blog:

The last ten

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By Jose Miguel Gomez

Some of these captives had been gone for 14 years, but as anxious as they must have been to return, they walked very slowly on the airport runway at Villavicencio. It seemed to me that they were carrying the weight of so many years of the horror they lived, hiking through the thick Colombian jungle, persecuted by the fear of being killed by their captors or by the bombing of the armed forces.

They landed exhausted. In their glances it seemed they were living a dream – one in which they returned to embrace their families, showing them that they were all still alive. Theirs was not an ending like some of their fellow captives, who were killed when the Army tried to free them. With their faces clearly aged, they returned with few possessions. Some of them brought jungle animals as pets. Their families awaited them in a private room of the airport because the government had decided not to show their first reunion to the press. We were upset, to say the least.

from The Human Impact:

A refugee, an amputee, a marathon runner: Abdifatah’s story

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Abdifatah Dhuhulow takes a break from some training in London’s Hyde Park, February 17, 2012. ALERTNET/Shanshan Chen

For someone who struggles to run a few metres before collapsing with a stitch, I'm constantly amazed by the skill of long-distance runners, and used to think crossing the finishing line of a marathon was the height of physical achievement -- until meeting Abdifatah Dhuhulow.

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