Wonkbook: Will Russia bail Obama out?

September 10, 2013

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

- Did Secretary John Kerry just gaffe us out of war? Kerry's comment that Assad could avoid strikes by turning over his entire chemical weapon stockpile was initially treated as just another gaffe. Kerry was "making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Then Russia unexpectedly endorsed the plan, and asked Syria to respond. Then Syria endorsed the plan. And now everyone is taking it very seriously -- including President Obama.

"You have to take it with a grain of salt initially," Obama told NBC News. "But between the statements that we saw from the Russians-- the statement today from the Syrians-- this represents a potentially positive development. We are going to run this to ground. John Kerry will be talking to his Russian counterpart. We're going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are."

- The "Kerry option" gives wavering members of Congress another excuse to vote "no". Any senators who want to vote against the force authorization without completely abandoning the administration have a new excuse: They don't want to authorize force until this promising diplomatic solution is fully explored.

- It also gives the Obama administration a new argument to persuade Congress to vote "yes." Prior to today, there was no option that either Russia or Syria were particularly worried about the U.S.'s "unbelievably small" war. That's over. "Even if Russia’s proposal is just a bluff, it shows that President Obama’s threat has backed Moscow into a bit of a corner, and has forced Russian officials to at least pretend to negotiate seriously for the first time in a long time," writes Max Fisher.

The Obama administration can now go to wavering members of Congress and argue that they need the authorization of force in order to have maximum leverage while pursuing this diplomatic option. And members of Congress can argue that they're simply voting to give the obama administration that leverage. Is all this a bit reminiscent of the bankshot arguments that ultimately passed the authorization for the war in Iraq? Yep. But remember, those arguments worked.

- And it lets President Obama argue that his policy is already seeing results. One key difficulty for Obama in advance of tonight's speech was that the American people already believed that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. They just don't believe that's reason enough for the United States to go to war.

The Kerry Option at least gives Obama the opportunity to make a new argument in tonight's primetime speech.You could see him previewing it to NBC News. "What we're seeing is that a credible threat of a military strike from the United States, supported potentially by a number of other countries around the world has given them pause and makes them consider whether or not they would make this move," he said. Now he can go before the American people and claim his policy is working and simply needs to be continued.

- CBO has no idea how much strikes in Syria will cost. The Congressional Budget Office released their estimate of how much the force authorization will cost. The answer? They have no idea. "The Administration has not detailed how it would use the authority that would be provided by this resolution; thus, CBO has no basis for estimating the costs of implementing S. J. Res. 21."


(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 1920. That was the year the Treaty of Sèvres was passed, which turned Syria into French territory. It's time to read up on Syria history!

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week...without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, singlehandedly changing the Syria conversation in one bumble.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Who always benefits from war? Aerospace and defense contractors. An index of publicly-listed companies is up substantially over the S&P as Syria news has swirled.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Syria, with a side dish of more Syria; 2) housing costs bite; 3) putting retirees to work on Obamacare; 4) NSA as tinker, tailor, soldier and spy; and 5) NSA, look here: An agency trying to be less intrusive.

1) Top story: The game has changed on Syria. Get caught up.

The latest key developments on Syria

The 'Kerry option' goes from accident to center-stage. "When Secretary of State John Kerry dangled for the first time on Monday actions that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could take to avoid a military strike, it seemed an acknowledgment that Congress, America’s allies and the Russians were all looking for an off-ramp for what a week ago seemed like inevitable military action against Syria. The concept has taken on many permutations in the past five days, but its essence is this: force Mr. Assad to turn his huge stockpile of chemical weapons over to some kind of international control and recognize the international ban on chemical weapons. The appeal of the idea is that, if successful, it could create a far more lasting solution than a brief strike on Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure." David E. Sanger in The New York Times.

White House now wants a 'hard look' at Syria's offer to hand over its chemical weapons. "Syria said it welcomed a Russian proposal that it hand over chemical weapons to be destroyed, without saying whether it would comply, as opponents of a military strike against Syria leapt at the chance for another delay to possible U.S. attack...The statements on Monday came in a fast-developing diplomatic twist in the Syrian crisis, after Secretary of State John Kerry, asked in a London news conference whether there was anything Mr. Assad could do to stop U.S. strikes, said: "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week...without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."...Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, a country that is one of the strongest supporters of the Assad regime, quickly urged Syria to comply with Mr. Kerry's call, while United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered U.N. help in overseeing the destruction of chemical weapons within Syria." Jay Solomon, James Marson and Nicholas Winning in The Wall Street Journal.

Primary source: The eight important quotes from Obama’s Syria interviewsAaron Blake in The Washington Post. The administration’s arguments for striking Syrian targets, from the interviewsJulie Tate in The Washington Post.

Kerry now says that the only reason his option is in play is because of the earlier war drumbeat. "Secretary of State John Kerry told a closed meeting of House lawmakers that the Russian government is only seeking to help Syria because they believe the U.S. is serious about taking military action, according to multiple sources present. The comment, which came in a classified briefing of the full House on Monday, mirrors public comments by other Obama administration officials: the threat of a military attack is working to bring the Russians to the negotiating table." Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson in Politico.

Sens. Manchin and Heitkamp also just floated an alternative plan. "The Democrats’ proposal would give Syrian President Bashar Assad 45 days to comply with an international chemical weapons ban after which “all elements of national power will be considered by the United States Government” in reaction to alleged chemical weapons usage by Assad’s forces against hundreds of Syrians. But Obama would also face a 45-day deadline of his own under the Manchin-Heitkamp resolution. The White House would be required to submit a strategy to Congress that would review all aid to the Syrian opposition, detail “efforts to isolate” terrorist groups within Syria from future governments, coordinate security with allies Jordan, Israel and Turkey and limit Iran’s support of Assad." Burgess Everett in Politico.

Reid delays cloture on motion to proceed to debate of Syria resolution. "“Normally, what I would do in a situation like this is file cloture today, but I don’t think that’s to our benefit,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I don’t think we need to see how fast we can do this. We have to see how well we can do this matter.”...If he had filed cloture, the Senate could have voted Wednesday on the motion to proceed." Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Kerry: Military action in Syria would be ‘unbelievably small.’ "“We will be able to hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war,” Kerry said during an appearance with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, according to The Guardian. “That is exactly what we are talking about doing — unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. 

The politics of a Syria strike 

Susan Rice pushes president’s case for strike against Syria in speech at New American Foundation. "If the nation does not punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Aug. 21 attacks near Damascus, Rice said, it “could indicate the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our country safe.” “Any president, Republican or Democrat, must have recourse to all elements of American power to design and implement our national security policy — diplomatic, economic or militaristic,” Rice said during an address at the nonpartisan New American Foundation. “Rejecting limited military action that President Obama strongly supports would raise questions around the world about whether the United States is truly prepared to use the full range of its power.”" David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Poll: Why Americans oppose a Syria strike, in their wordsBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Lawmakers head to the White House to plot strategy on Syria. "Republican Reps. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Peter King (N.Y.), both outspoken proponents of a strike, were spotted walking into the White House in the early afternoon...The expanded list includes Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Qatar, Romania and the United Arab Emirates." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

That's because the White House is, for better or for worse, not 'leading from behind' on a Syria strike. They're way, way out ahead. "Obama and his White House are owning every aspect of this operation. The president himself dropped in — for almost 90 minutes — on Vice President Joe Biden’s Sunday night dinner with a group of Senate Republicans. He’s expected to appeal directly to Senate Democrats at their Tuesday lunch on Capitol Hill. And he’s been making phone calls to individual lawmakers." Jonathan Allen in Politico. 

Poll: Obama hits new low in standing on foreign policyPaul Steinhauser in CNN.

Nevertheless, the message is still muddled. "Administration officials have said that the world cannot turn away while a tyrant gasses children, but stressed that their war plans don’t involve expelling Assad from power. They’ve said that strikes could hurt the regime’s fighting capacity in its civil war — perhaps tipping the balance of power — but that they are only trying to degrade its ability to use chemical weapons." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Primary source + explainer: Annotating Harry Reid’s Syria speech on the Senate floorChris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Hillary Clinton backs Obama on Syria strike. "“The Assad regime’s inhuman use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order, and therefore it demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States,” Clinton said...Clinton also suggested that the Russian proposal came about only because of a “credible military threat by the United States.”" Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Opposition to Syria airstrikes rises as Republicans shift sharply against action. "More than twice as many Americans oppose launching airstrikes against Syria as support such action, 64 to 30 percent. Overall opposition jumped five percentage points from 59 percent in a Post-ABC poll last week, but the largest change in the survey was among Republicans. Fully 71 percent of Republicans now oppose launching airstrikes, up from 55 percent last week." Scott Clement in The Washington Post.

...And Syria will test how loyal House Dems are to Pelosi. "Ms. Pelosi has written daily letters to colleagues encouraging them to come to an agreement on a measure, taken dozens of calls from lawmakers, and arranged briefings for scores of House Democrats with high-level administration officials, including meetings specifically for Hispanic, black and freshman members. Ms. Pelosi said that while she was sympathetic to her members’ reluctance, the stakes with chemical weapons were simply too high." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

Leading opinion on a Syria strike

VOORHEES: Kerry just bumbled his way into a workable solution to Syria? "Speaking in London earlier today, John Kerry appeared to issue a long-shot ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, suggesting that if he turned over his complete stockpile of chemical weapons within the next week he could avoid an attack from the United States. The State Department, however, would later walk back those comments, saying they were a "rhetorical argument" and not an actual proposal, adding that Assad "cannot be trusted" to take such action. For a brief period this morning it appeared as though Kerry's off-the-cuff hypothetical would largely remain overshadowed by his curious decision to call any American-led attack "unbelievably small." But that changed this afternoon once Assad and his strongest ally, Russia, caught everyone off guard by suggesting that Kerry's ad-libbed solution was actually workable. It's unclear whether their statements were an attempt to seize on the confusion caused by Kerry's initial comments, or if they represented a real diplomatic breakthrough—but either way they appeared to rather drastically change the international debate, at least the moment." Josh Voorhees in Slate.

AL-HAJ SALEH: A Syrian's cry for help. "A half-hearted intervention will not be enough. The United States and those who join it must not simply “discipline” the regime for its use of chemical weapons alone, without making a decisive impact on events in Syria. To do so would be a waste of effort and send the wrong message." Yassin Al-Haj Saleh in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Obama was right to go to Congress. The fact that he might lose proves it. "The White House’s decision to ask Congress for permission to strike Syria is being covered as a political story. If Congress backs the resolution, then that’s a “win” for Obama. If they rebuff the administration, that’s a loss — and it makes Obama look like a lame duck...Neither a “yes” nor a “no” vote on Syria won’t change that. The downstream consequences of a congressional rebuff are, effectively, zero. It’s a few bad news cycles, and then all Washington will be talking about is the October debt limit. What would change Obama’s presidency is a disastrous intervention in Syria." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

GERSON: Obama has already fumbled wartime leadership. "Obama’s approach represents a misunderstanding of wartime leadership. It is not possible for a president to justify the use of force by downplaying it. Americans support armed conflict when the stakes are highest, not when the costs are lowest. It is a tribute to their moral seriousness. There is no way for a president to accommodate American war weariness by setting “unbelievably small” goals; he must overcome it by explaining urgent, unavoidable national purposes. If Obama can’t define those purposes in Syria, his wartime leadership will not succeed." Michael Gerson in The Washington Post.

KLEIN: Your for intervening in Syria and its rebuttals. "The arguments for striking Syria are generally narrower and better founded. But after speaking with a number of supporters, it’s clear their rationales are, nevertheless, numerous -- and occasionally contradictory." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

CRUZ: Why I’ll vote no on Syria strike. "I do not believe a limited airstrike, as proposed by the president, will lead to success or improve conditions in Syria. There are other actions we can and should take to confront this atrocity, starting with forcing a vote in the U.N. Security Council condemning Assad for this attack; doing so would unify the world against the regime and expose China’s and Russia’s support for this tyrant." Ted Cruz in The Washington Post.

PLUMER: Syria barely has oil. So why are oil markets freaked out about war? "One possibility, as Steve Hargreaves points out, is that there’s a fear that the conflict in Syria could spread across the broader Middle East. Syria may not have much oil, but many of its neighbors certainly do...Another angle, as James Hamilton of the University of California San Diego explains here, is that the markets aren’t solely focused on Syria. There’s also a worry, for instance, that unrest in Egypt could disrupt the Suez Canal and Sumed pipeline, which carry about 3.5 million barrels of oil per day, or around 4 percent of the world’s supply." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: The Hollies, "Long Cool Woman."

Top opinion

CARNEY: Let's finish fixing global finance. "Greater transparency, simplicity and consistency should prevent banks gaming the new system. But, to this end, supervisors need to make good the pledge by G20 leaders to agree the rest of Basel III, including the leverage ratio, and to tackle large differences in risk weights across banks. Financial institutions also need to improve risk disclosures further and setters of accounting standards have been asked to agree a common standard for loan impairment this year." Mark Carney in The Financial Times.

BERNSTEIN: Why labor's share of income is falling. "While the shift from wages to profits is of course associated with higher inequality, it is actually a fairly loose association. Importantly, much of the increase in inequality has occurred within labor’s share, as the paychecks of high earners diverge from those of low earners...I thought the bargaining-clout point was worth a closer look...If you then calculate the cumulative unemployment gap since the Great Recession, you can fully explain the drop in the United States labor share." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

TAYLOR: Blame a slow recovery for rising inequality. Not rising inequality for a slow recovery. "What caused the differential income growth in the 1980s and 1990s? Research shows that the returns to education started increasing in the 1980s. For example, the wage premium for going to college compared to high school increased. But the supply of educated students did not respond to the increase in returns. High-school graduation rates were declining in the 1980s and '90s and have moved very little since then. Test scores of American students fell in international rankings. With little supply response, the returns to those with the education rose more quickly, causing the income distribution to widen." John B. Taylor in The Wall Street Journal.

CASE: Why doesn't the U.S. just fritter all of its human capital away? "While Washington then went on recess, and now has shifted its focus to Syria, what has the rest of the world been up to on economic advancement? Germany spent the summer rewriting 40% of its immigration laws, significantly easing the bureaucratic hurdles impeding talented, foreign-born engineers and professionals from contributing to the economy there. It will now be easier than ever for U.S.-educated graduate students to start new businesses in Germany...Australia—despite having an economy 14 times smaller than America's—will, as of Sept. 1, offer as many employment-based green cards as the U.S." Steve Case in The Wall Street Journal.

PEARLSTEIN: How the cult of shareholder value wrecked American business. "The result is a self-reinforcing cycle in which corporate time horizons have become shorter and shorter. The average holding periods for corporate stocks, which for decades was six years, is now down to less than six months. The average tenure of a public company chief executive is down to less than four years. And the willingness of executives to sacrifice short-term profits to make long-term investments is rapidly disappearing." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.

PONNURU: Obama's misguided war against school choice. "One of President Barack Obama’s conceits is that he is a pragmatist who seeks policies that work rather than pursuing a partisan agenda. On school choice, he doesn’t live up to the advertisement. His administration has been relentless in its ideological hostility to the idea, and seized on every possible pretext to express that hostility. The White House considers any government funding for private or parochial education, even indirect funding, to be a betrayal of the public schools." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

DAYEN: The liberal trio that could torpedo Larry Summers. "Summers’ biggest obstacle is simple math: He has to be able to count to 12. Twelve is the number of votes Summers would need to advance out of the Senate Banking Committee, which poses the biggest challenge to confirmation...Democrats hold a 12-10 advantage on the committee, and a tie means no advancement. So every Democrat Summers loses must be made up for by a Republican willing to cross the aisle...It may hinge on whether Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, wants to enforce party discipline." David Dayen in The New Republic.

SUNSTEIN: Immigration and Aristotle. "[M]any people argue that in the House and Senate, Republicans will ultimately support immigration-reform legislation, and that they will enter into some agreement to increase the debt limit and avoid a government shutdown. The predictions might turn out to be right, but don’t be too sure. The central argument is rooted in a logical fallacy, explored by Aristotle, called “the fallacy of division.” The fallacy occurs when people believe that if the whole has some characteristic, its parts will have that characteristic as well. Because the fallacy of division is important, and because it has so many implications, let’s explore it in a little detail." Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg.

Money money money interlude: The richest movie directors.

2) Ouch, that house is expensive

Buying a house is harder than it’s been in five years. "According to the National Association of Realtors, it’s almost as hard to afford a house as it was back when the financial crisis started to hit in 2008. But is that good or bad for the economy? Well, both. The Affordability Index is based on median household income, home prices, and interest rates. As the housing market has recovered, prices are on the rise." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

Baucus, Camp say consensus forming in Washington on a corporate tax overhaul. "The chairmen of the congressional tax-writing committees said Monday that a consensus is forming in Washington around a plan to lower rates and close loopholes for U.S. corporations. But Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said they would not proceed with a rewrite of the corporate code unless they can build support for overhauling tax laws that affect individuals as well." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Federal hiring declines to six-year low point. "With fiscal pressures continuing to force spending cuts, government agencies made fewer than 90,000 new hires last year, the smallest number in six years and a 37 percent drop since 2009, federal data show. The government hired 89,689 new employees in 2012...The largest occupational group of new hires last year — about 19,500 people or 21.7 percent — were doctors, nurses and other hospital and public health employees.." Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.

CFTC signals it may tighten rules on high-speed trading. "Federal regulators signaled on Monday that they may more strictly oversee the high-speed trading that’s come to dominate financial markets and impose risk controls in response to a series of market-disrupting technology glitches. The 137-page “concept release” from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission comes at a time when regulators are struggling to cope with a technological revolution that has transformed trading from a human-centric endeavor to one driven by computers that execute orders at blink-of-an-eye speeds — sometimes with disastrous results." Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

Why doesn’t Fed policy pack more punch? Blame Grandpa. "A researcher at the International Monetary Fund has a novel explanation for one reason  why this may be: namely, a growing proportion of the world population, and especially in advanced nations, that is elderly...[I]n an older society fewer people are actively using credit products. Which should in turn imply that a central bank turning the dials of interest rates will be less powerful at shaping the speed of the overall economy." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

House passes bill aimed at boosting foreign direct investment in the U.S. "The House on Monday evening approved legislation that would require the federal government to study barriers to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States, and to make efforts to remove those barriers. Members passed the Global Investment in American Jobs Act, H.R. 2052, in a 379-32 vote after a brief, non-controversial debate." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

The most disturbing story you'll read today interlude: You have been warned. It's on the abandonment of children adopted overseas.

3) Retirees get job: Testing health insurance exchanges

Retirees become health insurance exchanges' lab rats. "Media-company Time Warner Inc. plans to move its U.S. retirees from company-administered health plans to private exchanges, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company will allocate funds in special accounts that retirees can use to go shop for coverage, the person said." Spencer E. Ante in The Wall Street Journal.

Two groups quit Obamacare outreach program. "The federal government awarded $67 million to more than 100 organizations across the country to hire and train navigators last month. At least two of those groups have since turned their grants back to the federal government. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has turned back a $124,419 grant to enroll uninsured people at their main hospital and two satellite locations. Spokesman Terry Loftus said that the hospital decided to decline the funding after Ohio enacted new restrictions in late July that significantly limited who could participate in the program." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

...But Rite Aid is joining in. "Rite Aid Corporation announced that it will host licensed insurance agents at nearly 2,000 locations across the country starting Oct. 1 to teach customers about the new insurance exchanges. The agents will meet one-on-one with patients, who will be able to sign up for coverage on the spot, the company said. The pharmacies will also distribute written materials about ObamaCare." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Labor is getting much louder in its dissatisfaction with Obamacare. "The labor federation has been having internal deliberations in Los Angeles on how to best draft a resolution addressing unions’ concerns over President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. Some senior union officials want to shed more light on the issue as labor presses the White House to fix the law...Labor’s biggest concern with the healthcare reform law is its impact on union members’ health plans, known as multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans. Unions want these plans to be considered as qualified health plans and, thus, eligible for tax subsidies. But under the administration’s interpretation, the plans are not eligible for those subsidies." Kevin Bogardus in The Hill.

Why is HHS hiring a lot of people for Obamacare? Senators ask. "The senators questioned why the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) granted "direct-hire" authority to the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to hire new staff to implement the 2010 healthcare law. OPM gave HHS direct-hire authority to fill more than 1,800 positions related to implementing the healthcare law, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and GOP colleagues said. But they questioned whether all of those jobs truly represented the "critical needs" for which direct-hire authority is usually reserved." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Graphic ads against smoking are working. "A national antismoking campaign funded by the U.S. government that featured explicit images and messages about the harmful effects of smoking was linked to attempts by more than 1.6 million additional smokers to kick the habit, according to a study published Monday...The $54 million campaign, called "Tips from Former Smokers," featured television, radio, print, billboard and digital ads, with versions in English and Spanish. It reached an estimated 80% of smokers, the CDC researchers found." Betsy McKay in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama administration to Congress: We’re tired of your dumb Obamacare questions. "Republican lawmakers have questions for the groups signing up the uninsured for Obamacare. They have, in fact, lots of questions. Their questions were detailed in a three-page letter sent earlier this month to more than 100 “navigator” groups, which had received federal funding for health law enrollment Health and Human Services stepped in Monday morning with a response on behalf of the groups–and a retort. “We are concerned about the timing of your inquiry given its potential to interfere with the Navigators ability to carry out their crucial efforts in assisting Americans who lack health insurance,” Jim Esquea, assistant secretary for legislaton at HHS, writes in a response to Congress." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Seventy percent of D.C.’s pregnancies are unintended. "The Guttmacher report shows that, generally, states in the South, Southwest and with larger urban areas tend to have higher rates of unintended pregnancies. More unintended pregnancies were mistimed than unwanted." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Wonkblog's 1990s flashbacks interlude: Lisa Frank is a real person, and her company has a totally bizarre headquarters.

4) NSA is tinker and tailor of encryption standards. Don't forget soldier and spy. 

Border is backdoor to more surveillance and searches. "Newly released documents reveal how the government uses border crossings to seize and examine travelers’ electronic devices instead of obtaining a search warrant to gain access to the data. The documents detail what until now has been a largely secretive process that enables the government to create a travel alert for a person, who may not be a suspect in an investigation, then detain that individual at a border crossing and confiscate or copy any electronic devices that person is carrying." Susan Stellin in The New York Times.

Explainer: 7 issues to watch as more details come to light on the NSA's crypto roleMatthew J. Schwartz in InformationWeek.

After NSA encryption furor, tech companies ask for more transparency. "Google filed a transparency petition on Monday seeking the ability to publish "detailed statistics" about information sought for U.S. foreign intelligence gathering. The company joins Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo in doing so...Meanwhile, Google, Facebook and others met Monday with a panel established by the White House to review the sweeping domestic surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency." Nidhi Subbaraman in NBC News.

"Vous aimez parier?" interlude: This is an absolutely fabulous commercial for the French lottery.

5) NSA, look here: An agency trying to be less intrusive

TSA to scale back some of its airport security. "More than a quarter of U.S. fliers can expect speedier passage through airport checkpoints — shoes and coats on, laptop computers untouched — by year’s end under a program announced Monday by the Transportation Security Administration. About 450,000 passengers a day will be eligible for the special treatment as existing programs are expanded to include a random selection of people deemed low security risks by the TSA." Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

How a $134 tax bill got an elderly Vietnam vet evictedDylan Matthews.

British austerity was even worse than you thoughtDylan Matthews.

Seventy percent of D.C.’s pregnancies are unintendedSarah Kliff.

Obama was right to go to Congress. The fact that he might lose proves itEzra Klein.

Why doesn’t Fed policy pack more punch? Blame GrandpaNeil Irwin.

Syria barely has oil. So why are oil markets freaked out about warBrad Plumer.

Two groups quit Obamacare outreach programSarah Kliff.

How the cult of shareholder value wrecked American businessSteven Pearlstein.

Why Americans oppose intervention in Syria: “It’s none of our business." Brad Plumer.

Obama administration to Congress: We’re tired of your dumb Obamacare questionsSarah Kliff.

Buying a house is harder than it’s been in five yearsLydia DePillis.

Et Cetera

Life expectancy for uneducated white women drops by five yearsDiana Reese in The Washington Post.

Will these 10 states be the next to legalize potNiraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Brad Plumer · September 9, 2013