Wonkbook: What you need to know about America’s latest military involvement in Iraq

August 11

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Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 7.2 million. That's the number of Americans who have enrolled in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program since Obamacare enrollment started Oct. 1.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Half the country doesn't think Watergate was a real scandal?! Why?

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) The policy details on Iraq; (2) The World Health Organization declares a global health emergency; (3) great slack debate heats up; and (4) child migrants' legal-process woes.

1. Top story: The policy details on the U.S.'s latest military involvement in Iraq

When is it genocide? U.S. interests help decide. "Why did the administration decide to take military action now, but previously didn’t act to stop the killing of Shiites and Christians in the same region, or the slaughter of civilians in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or other places around the world? The answer may have more to do with U.S. strategic interests and geopolitics than ethics....Obama’s use of the word genocide...is extremely unusual, said Jonas Claes, a conflict analyst for the United States Institute of Peace....Usually presidents dance around the word because it implies a legal responsibility to act, Claes said. The 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention makes genocide an international crime and defines it as an intentional act to destroy a national, racial, religious or ethnic group." Lindsay Wise in McClatchy Newspapers.

On the long history of persecution of the Iraqi Yazidis. "The Iraqi mountain community that President Barack Obama is racing to defend is numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands, with roots in the 12th century and a history of persecution. The previously obscure group is spread across northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and its members follow an unorthodox blend of Islam, Christianity and ancient Zoroastrianism, one reason they’re being targeted by militants from the Islamic State." Kambiz Foroohar and Zaid Sabah in Bloomberg

Yazidis flood into Iraq after U.S. airstrikes. "Burned by the sun, blistered with thirst and weak from exhaustion, thousands of Yazidis on Sunday fled the mountain on which they had been trapped for a week, streaming into Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region after a harrowing escape from extremist fighters that some said was aided by U.S. airstrikes. Hungry, thirsty and tired, they limped across a narrow bridge spanning the Tigris on the Iraqi-Syrian border hauling their few belongings, some of them barefoot, others in sleeping clothes because they ran for their lives at night." Liz Sly in the The Washington Post.

The Obama doctrine? Genocide is a moral imperative. "President Barack Obama’s decision to get the U.S. military involved in rescuing thousands of Iraqi minorities facing possible death on a besieged mountaintop is raising the inevitable question: Who’s next? The humanitarian mission Obama ordered is another key chapter in one of the central foreign policy sagas of his administration: the struggle between the humanitarian impulse and the president’s cautious approach to use of military force abroad. Thursday night, Obama articulated a foreign policy doctrine that genocide is a moral imperative that justified military force." Josh Gerstein in Politico.

Timeline: How Obama arrived at the decision to launch air strikes — and the possibility of genocide. Josh Lederman in the Associated Press.

Charts: The public remains war-weary. "For years, Americans have made one thing very clear: They want no part of overseas conflicts. In Iraq, that long-standing aversion is being put to the test. Prevention of genocide and starvation is among the most potent arguments Obama could make for getting involved in Iraq....But the public’s overwhelming support for action to stop genocide in principle has not always translated to support for specific military interventions." Scott Clement and Peyton Craighill in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Obama's Iraq comments over the years. Associated Press.

Humanitarian aid delivered safely, signaling more air drops on the way. "Initial reports suggest that about 80 percent of the food and water the U.S. military delivered by air to Iraqi civilians on Thursday reached their target, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday, raising the prospect of more deliveries in coming days....The Pentagon did not provide more specifics about the airdrop....However, it’s all but certain that the supplies were dropped using GPS devices that the U.S. military has used for years. One of the most common systems is known as the Joint Precision Airdrop System, which uses a GPS unit, a parachute and electric motors to guide deliveries toward their target as they fall, defense officials say." Dan Lamothe in The Washington Post.

Signs of trouble ahead for Iraq oil markets? "Oil explorers in Kurdistan halted operations and evacuated more staff as Islamist militants advanced into northern Iraq....''There hasn’t been a significant change to the security environment, but we do think there will be continuous fighting in the affected areas,' Gala Riani, head of Middle East-North Africa analysis at Control Risks, a risk management and security company, said in a phone interview. 'Any companies in the areas that have changed hands are likely to be assessing the situation and may be moving people further within the Kurdish borders.'" Anna Hirtenstein in Bloomberg.

JUDIS: The air strikes are all about oil. "If the Islamic State were to take over Erbil, they would endanger Iraq’s oil production and, by extension, global access to oil. Prices would surge at a time when Europe, which buys oil from Iraq, has still not escaped the global recession. Oil prices have already risen in response to the Islamic State’s threat to Erbil, and on Thursday, American oil companies Chevron and Exxon Mobile began evacuating their personnel from Kurdistan. But oil traders are predicting that American intervention could halt the rise." John B. Judis in The New Republic.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: Phosphorus and freedom — the libertarian fantasy. "The point is that before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering. Often...there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved. Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique. Smart libertarians have always realized that there are problems free markets alone can’t solve — but their alternatives to government tend to be implausible....Of course some government interventions are unnecessary and unwise. But the idea that we have a vastly bigger and more intrusive government than we need is a foolish fantasy." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

SALAM: Gridlock in Washington means our political system is working the way it's supposed to. "Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not the president has the right to use his prosecutorial discretion to, in effect, accomplish by executive fiat what he can’t via legislative means. Is it really true that Congress violates its obligations under the Constitution when it fails to pass any laws? I would argue to the contrary that House Republicans are taking their constitutional duties seriously, and that the congressional inaction the president condemns is in fact an indication that our democratic system is working." Reihan Salam in Slate.

KRISTOF: Is a hard life inherited? "One delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence. In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons....Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation." Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

REICH: The rebirth of shareholder capitalism? "Patagonia, a large apparel manufacturer based in Ventura, California, has organized itself as a 'B-corporation.' That's a for-profit company whose articles of incorporation require it to take into account the interests of workers, the community, and the environment, as well as shareholders....To date, over 500 companies in sixty industries have been certified as B-corporations....In addition, 27 states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate as 'benefit corporations.'...We may be witnessing the beginning of a return to a form of capitalism that was taken for granted in America sixty years ago." Robert B. Reich in The Huffington Post.

THOMSON-DeVEAUX: anti-abortion lawmakers are hijacking state health departments. "As more states pass anti-abortion laws that require regulatory bodies to enforce them, it seems likely that more governors will nominate people like Hodges and Gonidakis to positions of power within their health departments. In some ways, this is not surprising — after all, health department directors are political appointees, so the process has never been free from ideology. But public health is an issue that has, until recently, been relatively nonpartisan...and Hodges' nomination raises questions about whether, in the rush to close abortion clinics, basic concern for public health is falling by the wayside." Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux in The Week.

FOX AND MORAN: Sex assault surveys not the answer. "If the Senate has its way, the government will soon initiate an annual online survey of students from every college in the U.S. Unfortunately, of all means of collecting survey data, online methods are the most vulnerable to response bias. What makes this ill-conceived survey of such concern is that the results are to be publicly released, with rates reported for individual schools. This carries significant implications for admissions and retention rates, as it is based on data of highly questionable validity....Questioning the wisdom of an online survey does not mean that the problem isn't serious and worthy of enhanced efforts to protect victims." James Alan Fox and Richard Moran in USA Today.

SCHOENFELD: How should the Fed measure inflation? "By looking only at consumer prices and wages, the Fed's inflation barometers focus on a part of the picture that is no longer representative. Globalization has put a ceiling on the prices of many goods and services. Technological advancements such as robotics have provided a similar check on wage growth by lowering the demand for human labor. As a result, the relationship between monetary policy and traditional inflation indicators has frayed. In a world where financial innovation has given almost everybody access to credit, easy money flows right past goods and services into asset markets, where it pushes up the prices of stocks, bonds and real estate." Matthew Schoenfeld in Bloomberg View.

Astronomy interlude: Watch NASA's "flying saucer" for Mars go supersonic.

2. The WHO declared Ebola a global health emergency? 

What does a global health emergency even mean? "Technically, it means that the WHO committee thinks the outbreak is a public health risk to other nations and that the outbreak might be in need of an international response. Those are the general criteria for the PHEIC category. This does not, however, mean WHO will go in and fix everything in the Ebola fight. The declaration itself comes with recommended things that various nations should do, but it doesn't automatically come with funding, gloves, aid workers, or any of the other resources that the exceptionally poor nations with Ebola need to actually do those things." Susannah Locke in Vox.

Long read: Tracing the Ebola outbreak and its causes. Denise Grady and Sheri Fink in The New York Times.

Primary source: Read the full list of recommendations from WHO, verbatim (scroll down). Fred Barbash in The Washington Post.

4 reasons why this Ebola outbreak is different. "1. This is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in West African countries....2. There is tremendous mistrust of nontraditional or Western medicine in these areas....3. This is the first time an outbreak has spread to city centers....4. The response has not kept up with the virus." Sophie Novack in National Journal.

Yes, Ebola is scary... but here's why you still shouldn't fear it in the U.S. Connie Cass in the Associated Press.

Ebola's growing economic toll. "The World Bank estimates that the outbreak will shrink economic growth in Guinea, where the crisis emerged in March, from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year. Ama Egyaba Baidu-Forson, an economist at IHS Global Insight...is cutting her forecasts for growth this year in Liberia and Sierra Leone. She warned that prices would rise as food and other staples become scarce and that the region's already fragile governments would run up big budget deficits in fighting Ebola. Baidu-Forson says the countries hit by Ebola ultimately could require financial help from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, multinational companies that do business in the resource-rich region are scrambling to respond to the crisis." Paul Wiseman in the Associated Press.

Mark your calendars: Key WHO meeting today about experimental Ebola drugs. "A panel of ethicists convened by the World Health Organization today will begin weighing whether drugs that haven’t been widely tested for safety should be used in an outbreak where about 40 percent of infected people survive with just supportive care. If so, the panel members must address who gets the medicines, which so far only exist in small amounts. 'This is the first effort to have a long-overdue, transparent, public discussion about how to distribute life-saving medicines in an emergency,' said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center." Caroline Chen in Bloomberg.

Ebola still poses little threat to U.S., but spreads rapidly on Twitter. "Why do people feel compelled to post and rebroadcast jokes, rumors and dread of a distant disease that public health officials say is extremely unlikely to pose serious risk on this side of the Atlantic Ocean? The science behind how and why ideas spread on social media is a growing area of research. At the most basic level, marketing experts say, people tend to share stories that stir their deepest feelings, whether positive or negative. To wit, frightful shark attacks routinely top the trending charts alongside cheerful cat videos and inspirational quotes." Joshua A. Krisch in The New York Times.

25 years ago, a different Ebola outbreak hit the U.S. Nobody got sick. "Americans' introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport....Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it." Matthew Barakat in the Associated Press.

Long read: How Owensboro, Ky., tobacco grew a possible treatment for Ebola. Janet Patton in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Could the Ebola outbreak strain an already thinly stretched HHS budget? Look to the migrant crisis. "A senior GOP appropriator, also attending the hearing, inquired about the need to shift current HHS funding toward toward addressing the CDC response to the Ebola crisis. However, the HHS budget is already subject to separate transfers to cover new expenses from an influx of migrant children at the border with Mexico....The administration requested emergency program funding for HHS border relief efforts, but Congress was unable to reach an agreement on supplemental spending prior to the August congressional recess." Paul Jenks in Roll Call.

Interview: Dr. Frederick Murphy, witness to Ebola's discovery. Jeffery DelViscio in The New York Times.

Other health care reads:

29 states seek tighter e-cigarette regulations. Elizabeth A. Harris in The New York Times.

CDC cited for security failures in audits. Alison Young in USA Today.

BEYER: Who are Ebola's guinea pigs? "Some commentators have said it's unfair that the U.S. medical workers received ZMapp while Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone's leading Ebola expert, who died last month of the disease, did not. It might seem like a valid point in light of the improvement the Americans made after receiving the treatment. But their progress was hardly preordained. No human had ever taken ZMapp before. If Khan had been the first and ZMapp had killed him instantly, those same commentators would have complained that a U.S. drugmaker used an African as a guinea pig. In fact, Brantly and Whitebol were guinea pigs." Lisa Beyer in Bloomberg View.

Musical performance interlude: Cast of stage musical version of "The Lion King" takes Broadway to the Subway with performance of "The Circle of Life."

3. The great debate over labor market slack 

How much slack is there in the labor market? The Fed ponders the question. "By many measures, such slack has narrowed considerably, but not completely, even five years after the recovery began. Conditions aren't quite back to what was normal before the 2008 financial crisis. The degree and speed of this progress matters to the Federal Reserve as it weighs when to start raising interest rates. If the gap closes rapidly, inflation pressures could build faster: Companies might need to raise prices to cover the costs of adding extra shifts and hiring more staff, and a stronger job market could in turn fuel faster wage gains. But if slack keeps ebbing slowly, price increases are likely to remain mild, allowing the central bank to keep rates lower for longer." Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.

The Fed has an eye on rising productivity, which has kept wage pressures tame. "Productivity at U.S. nonfarm businesses rebounded strongly in the second quarter, putting a lid on wage pressures and giving the Federal Reserve room to keep interest rates low for a while. The Labor Department said on Friday productivity increased at a 2.5 percent annual rate after contracting at a revised 4.5 percent pace in the first quarter....The bounce back kept labor-related production costs in check. They had surged at the start of the year as an unusually cold winter depressed output.Unit labor costs, the price of labor for any given unit of production, rose at a 0.6 percent rate, braking sharply from an upwardly revised 11.8 percent pace in the first quarter." Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.

About that weak wage growth... "The lack of wage growth and any resulting inflation has become one of the biggest reasons why bulls in the $12.2 trillion market for Treasuries have gotten it right. The 139 million workers that held non-farm jobs in July made an average $24.45 an hour, just a penny more than in the prior month, government data show. It was the third time in five months that wages rose less than economists’ estimates....Without higher wages, there’s little chance that Americans will spend enough to cause inflation to accelerate....Lackluster earnings growth also raises the likelihood Fed Chair Janet Yellen...will maintain the central bank’s easy-money policies into a sixth year." Daniel Kruger in Bloomberg.

But the job market is slowly starting to favor workers. "Americans who have been hunting for employment for more than six months are finding they’re having better luck landing a job, while people who had given up looking are returning to the labor force to resume their search. Companies, meanwhile, are beefing up their in-house recruiting teams and increasingly using complicated computer algorithms to scour the Web for prospective job candidates. This is all good news for the economy, according to Nariman Behravesh...chief economist for IHS Inc. He said the U.S. has entered a 'virtuous cycle' where job gains are leading to increased household expenditures, encouraging employers to hire more workers." Rich Miller and Victoria Stilwell in Bloomberg.

IMF: Economic-growth policies could help fix America's labor-force decline. "The shrinking pool of workers in the U.S. job market is due in part to demographic shifts. But a substantial part of it can be addressed by policies that boost economic growth and productivity, says an economist at the International Monetary Fund....Labor force participation has become central to the debate over the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate policy. That’s because while the unemployment rate has fallen more quickly than policy makers expected, a significant portion of that drop was due to a decline in the labor pool. Some officials say this suggests plenty of room for rates to remain near zero while the weak economic recovery finds its footing." Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.

Tips don't add up for most waiters and waitresses. "The American system of tipping holds the promise of great rewards for waiters and waitresses, but for most servers, the numbers don't bear that out. Nearly 15% of the nation's 2.4 million waiters and waitresses live in poverty, compared with about 7% of all workers. They are more likely to need public assistance and less likely to receive paid sick leave or health benefits — and their ranks are increasing. From the start of the recovery in 2009 until June of this year, restaurant jobs have increased by 13%, while all other jobs are up 5.5%." Jo Craven McGinty in The Wall Street Journal.

In other labor-related news, more workers file family-leave suits. "Mr. Hettler joined a growing number of workers who are suing their employers under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The 1993 law guarantees employees as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for medical and family reasons, and bars employers from retaliating against workers for taking it. Lawsuits filed under the statute jumped to 877 in 2013 from 291 a year earlier, according to the most-recent figures....The number of family-leave cases was dwarfed by the more than 15,000 suits filed last year accusing companies of violating laws that protect against race, sex or disability discrimination. But the FMLA was the only one among those laws to generate a sharp increase in claims." Joe Palazzolo in The Wall Street Journal.

Finally, judge kills settlement in Silicon Valley hiring case. "There is 'ample evidence' that Silicon Valley was engaged in 'an overarching conspiracy' against its own employees, a federal judge said on Friday, and it should either pay dearly or have its secrets exposed at trial. Judge Lucy H. Koh of the United States District Court in San Jose rejected as insufficient a proposed $324 million settlement in a class-action antitrust case that accused leading tech companies of agreeing not to poach one another’s engineers. In addition, her decision immediately resuscitated a public relations nightmare for Google, Apple and other top tech companies while vindicating a range of observers...who said Silicon Valley was escaping justice." David Streitfeld in The New York Times.

Other economic/financial reads:

U.S. firms put teens to work to prevent them from dropping out of school. Jonathan House in The Wall Street Journal.

Strange bedfellows: Unions team up with fast-food owners on fair-franchising legislation in California. Patrick Clark in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Argentina threatened with contempt by U.S. judge. Joseph Ax and Andrew Chung in Reuters.

Ex-Im Bank reauthorization left off Republican to-do list. Mark Felsenthal in Reuters.

Animals interlude: Find the hidden museum cats in D.C.

4. Migrant children still facing challenges with legal process

'Rocket dockets' for recently arrived children bring new problems. "They are called 'rocket dockets', and ricochet through immigration courts in what critics say is a blur of confusion, anxiety and frustration. The goal is to accelerate the processing of recently arrived child migrants from Central America, but the result can be chaotic and counterproductive, judges and attorneys warned this week. Some courtrooms teem with nervous children and relatives. Others are nearly silent and empty because the children are not present, either unaware of their appointments, or unable or afraid to show up. Often there are no attorneys....The Obama administration announced the accelerated procedures last month." Rory Carroll in The Guardian.

House GOP again denies legal aid for child migrants. "Government records indicate more than 40 percent of the children — many under 14 years of age and with little understanding of English — are processed through the system now without counsel. That figure is expected to go higher given the crowded docket of deportation hearings this summer, and immigrant rights advocates say the result is a denial of due process. Indeed, DOJ already faces a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle arguing that the children can’t get a fair hearing without legal counsel....Attorney General Eric Holder has been more expansive in proposing the use of federal funds to assist in getting lawyers, but he has run into a wall with the House GOP." David Rogers in Politico.

Trauma plagues many kids entering illegally as they await legal hearings. "Many of the children now face difficult and uncertain futures. This has social service agencies around the country scrambling to figure out how to help the more than 30,000 unaccompanied minors who have been placed with family and friends since January, as they await their immigration hearings....Until recently, workers at the agency saw about five to seven newly arrived children each month. Now they're seeing that many every day, according to Maria Gomez, the group's president and CEO. She says many of the children have had horrific experiences, which will require serious counseling." Pam Fessler in NPR.

Other immigration reads:

Can Obama legalize 5 million illegal immigrants by himself? SCOTUS may have offered a hint. Sahil Kapur in Talking Points Memo.

Long read: In one of the poorest counties in Texas, at the center of the U.S. border crisis, one deputy must do the work of many. Eli Saslow and Ricky Carioti in The Washington Post.

Why Lamar Alexander's immigration vote didn't sink him. Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Magic interlude: Watch how dogs react when presented with food that "floats" in midair.

Wonkblog roundup

Your credit score could go up without you lifting a finger. Danielle Douglas.

Why marijuana won’t become another Big Tobacco. Christopher Ingraham.

The government wants Big Ten schools to come clean about deals with banks. Danielle Douglas.

Researchers put two Spanish-speakers on a train and changed commuters’ views of immigration. Emily Badger.

It now makes even less sense to get a retail credit card. Jonnelle Marte.

In 20 years, we can make hepatitis C rare — if we can afford the cure. Jason Millman.

One way Herbalife could show it’s not scamming customers. Max Ehrenfreund.

Name That Data! Christopher Ingraham.

The states with the highest homeless populations per capita, mapped. Steven Rich.

Et Cetera

The real reason you can't text 911. Laura Ryan and Brian McGill in National Journal.

For Canada, tar sands are bigger than Keystone XL. Bobby Magill in Climate Central.

White students to no longer be majority at school. Kimberly Hefling and Jesse J. Holland in the Associated Press.

Maybe EPA's climate rule isn't such a boon for nuclear after all? Jean Chemnick in Greenwire.

Rules prevent solar panels in many places with plentiful sunlight. Evan Halper in the Los Angeles Times.

Medical marijuana research hits wall of U.S. law. Serge F. Kovaleski in The New York Times.

Judge rules NCAA's player rules violate antitrust laws. Brad Wolverton in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

GMO fight ripples down food chain. Annie Gasparro in The Wall Street Journal.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.

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