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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 285-272. That was the tally from yesterday's vote in the United Kingdom's Parliament against military strikes in Syria.
Wonkbook's Graphs of the Day: America’s secret intelligence budget, in 11 charts. And, as a bonus, percent without health insurance, by county.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Syria strike appears certain; 2) Yellen fading; 3) the 'black budget'; 4) unions turning against Obamacare; and 5) bye bye, Diners' Club.
1) Top story: Are we going to war in Syria?
Obama set for limited strike on Syria. "President Obama is prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria, administration officials said Thursday...[A]dministration officials made clear that the eroding support would not deter Mr. Obama in deciding to go ahead with a strike. Pentagon officials said that the Navy had now moved a fifth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Each ship carries dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles that would probably be the centerpiece of any attack on Syria...[A]ll indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United Nations investigators charged with scrutinizing the Aug. 21 attack leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday." Mark Landler, David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker in The New York Times.
U.S. military officers have deep doubts about impact, wisdom of a U.S. strike on Syria. "Having assumed for months that the United States was unlikely to intervene militarily in Syria, the Defense Department has been thrust onto a war footing that has made many in the armed services uneasy, according to interviews with more than a dozen military officers ranging from captains to a four-star general...Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to fundamentalist rebels, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous." Ernesto Londoño in The Washington Post.
@conor64: President Obama has been warned in every possible way that intervening in Syria is risky, illegal, and unlikely to help.
UK parliament rejects Syria action. "The government lost a vote—by a tally of 285 to 272—that would have supported in principle military intervention in Syria, where Western governments have said President Bashar al-Assad's regime carried out a deadly chemical-weapons attack on civilians last week. Members of all major parties—including Mr. Cameron's Tories—opposed the measure. Mr. Cameron said it is clear that the British Parliament, reflecting the view of the British people, doesn't want to see the U.K. get involved in military action and "the government will act accordingly." The outcome marks a significant moment in British politics—it is highly unusual for a prime minister to be defeated on foreign policy and raises the prospect of whether the U.K.'s role on the world stage going forward." Cassell Bryan-Low in The Wall Street Journal.
@jbarro: Cameron shouldn't have let Kevin McCarthy whip the Syria vote for him
White House offers Hill no timetable on Syria strike. "The call appears to have done little to change anybody’s mind. Members issued statements afterward reiterating their long-held views on Syria...On the call, White House officials told lawmakers the president is still weighing his options on Syria, according to the congressional source. Several officials were on the call representing the administration, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld." Austin Wright in Politico.
@blakehounshell: I don't think we can divorce today's UK vote from the Iraq fiasco. It's not strictly about the merits of striking Syria.
More than 50 House Democrats also want Syria strike resolution. "There appears to be notable bipartisan support for a formal congressional resolution authorizing a U.S. military strike on Syria, now that more than 50 House Democrats have signed a letter calling on President Obama to ask lawmakers for a sign-off. The letter, written by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), warns that ongoing human rights violations in Syria “should not draw us into an unwise war — especially without adhering to our constitutional requirements.” The letter also calls on the Obama administration to work with the U.N. Security Council “to build international consensus” condemning the alleged use of chemical weapons. Lee’s letter has at least 52 co-signers, meaning that her letter, along with a similar letter drafted by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that has more than 110 cosigners from both parties, have been endorsed by more than 170 lawmakers — about 40 percent of the House." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
@BuzzFeedAndrew: . @DanaBashCNN asked if a Syria vote would pass Congress, replies "no."
Syria's best case, Syria's worst case. "Best case: The Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missiles prevent Syrian President Bashar Assad from launching another chemical attack and hasten the end to a civil war that has taken an estimated 100,000 lives. Worst case: Syria’s deadly war continues unabated, the conflict spreads into the broader Middle East and the U.S. suffers a deep embarrassment in the eyes of a world watching closely to see how it responds to the use of weapons of mass destruction." Kate Brannen and Philip Ewing in Politico.
Explainer: The very, very basics on Syria. Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.
Rumsfeld says Obama’s Syria strategy is ‘mindless.’ "Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who played a major role in the United States going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan last decade, says President Obama hasn’t made his case for military intervention in Syria. “One thing that’s very interesting, it seems to me, is that there really hasn’t been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation,” Rumsfeld said on Fox Business Network on Wednesday. Rumsfeld said the two most important things in the region are Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the relationship between Iran and Syria with respect to funding terrorism. He suggested getting involved militarily wouldn’t help on either issue." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Legal experts say Obama misreading his right to wage war. "Two constitutional scholars said Thursday that President Obama's administration is relying on an incorrect and "silly" definition of "war" to justify overseas military operations, although one expert said he expects the administration to use a similar justification to attack." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.
@chrislhayes: Two days ago a military strike on Syria was a fait accompli. Not now.
Why candidate Obama would have agreed with lawmakers demanding input on Syria. "In a 2007 question-and-answer session with the Boston Globe that’s received a a lot of attention in recent days, then-presidential candidate Obama said that the president isn’t empowered to order a military strike when the country is not under an immediate threat. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the senator from Illinois said in response to a question about whether the president would have the authority to bomb Iran without approval from Congress. “As Commander-in-Chief,” Obama said, “the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”" Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.
How Obama demobilized the antiwar movement. "One obvious theory is that Syria is just vastly different from Iraq — no one’s talking about sending in ground troops this time. That could explain why the opposition isn’t quite so fierce...Alternatively: It’s also only been a few days since U.S. officials have started talking seriously about lobbing missiles at targets in Syria. Maybe the protests just haven’t had time to gather steam yet. Wait and see...A third possibility, though, is that the election of Barack Obama sapped the energy of the U.S. antiwar movement. Reihan Salam points to a 2011 paper by sociologists Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas, who find that antiwar protests shrunk very quickly after Obama took office in 2008 — mainly because Democrats were less likely to show up" Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
BROOKS: One great big war. "What’s the biggest threat to world peace right now? Despite the horror, it’s not chemical weapons in Syria. It’s not even, for the moment, an Iranian nuclear weapon. Instead, it’s the possibility of a wave of sectarian strife building across the Middle East...Some experts even say that we are seeing the emergence of a single big conflict that could be part of a generation-long devolution, which could end up toppling regimes and redrawing the national borders that were established after World War I. The forces ripping people into polarized groups seem stronger than the forces bringing them together." David Brooks in The New York Times.
Music recommendations interlude: John McCutcheon, "Christmas in the Trenches," 1984.
KLEIN: Do presidents really reward the states that voted them into office? "[O]n the big-ticket items, presidents often govern in ways that a cynic wouldn’t expect. Given the amount of favoritism they could show, and the plausible punishments they could mete out, the norms holding presidents to a higher standard seem to work remarkably well." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
REINHARDT: The central challenge in health policy. "The gist of the preceding array of data is that even under what we now call “moderate” growth in health care costs, stagnating incomes for millions of American households will put American health care as we have come to know it out of their financial reach, unless they receive substantial help from households in the upper third or so of the household income distribution. This central political dilemma in American health policy — leave health care to those who can afford it or increase tax revenues to broaden coverage — will continue as far as the eye can see. A good part of the current shouting match over the Affordable Care Act expresses anger over this dilemma, and it will not subside even after the act has been fully put in place." Uwe E. Reinhardt in The New York Times.
WESSEL: Obama and Reagan, best buddies on free trade. "When Barack Obama does something that hasn't been done since Ronald Reagan did it 25 years ago, it's worth a closer look...The White House backs legislation that would make it harder for companies to win import bans at the ITC, just as the Supreme Court has done for courts...In the case that caught the president's eye, the ITC barred imports of certain iPhones and iPads made (abroad) by Apple Inc. (an American company) because they infringed on U.S. patents held by Samsung Electronic Col Ltd. (a Korean company). Acting through the U.S. Trade Representative, Mr. Obama overruled the commission, the first time a president has done that since 1988." David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.
KRUGMAN: The unsaved world. "One answer is that Indonesia had its own currency, and the slide in the rupiah was, eventually, a very good thing. Meanwhile, Greece is trapped in the euro. In addition, however, policy makers were more flexible in the ’90s than they are today. The International Monetary Fund initially demanded tough austerity policies in Asia, but it soon reversed course. This time, the demands placed on Greece and other debtors have been relentlessly harsh, and the more austerity fails, the more bloodletting is demanded." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
Oh I see interlude: Why pharmaceuticals have bizarre names.
2) Summers's Fed odds wax as summer wanes
Yellen plays down chances of getting Fed post. "Janet Yellen, has played down her chances of getting the job, according to people who have spoken to her...Ms. Yellen has indicated to some associates that she sees herself as the underdog and is uncomfortable with the contentious public spectacle that the succession has become, according to people who have spoken to her...The White House hasn't been vetting Ms. Yellen, according to two Senate aides familiar with Obama administration thinking. It wasn't clear late Wednesday whether officials have been vetting Mr. Summers...Ms. Yellen wouldn't need as thorough a vetting as Mr. Summers if she were nominated, because she was confirmed by the Senate for the Fed's No. 2 job in 2010, and as a Fed official, she makes annual financial disclosures to the government." Jon Hilsenrath and Carol E. Lee in The Wall Street Journal.
Report says Fed broke its own secrecy rules. "The inspector’s report on Thursday recommended procedural changes after the Fed’s minutes from March were sent a day early to more than 100 staff members in Congress, lobbyists for the financial industry, and employees of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo...The inspector’s report said the Fed had failed to provide sufficient training to employees in handling confidential information. It also said the Fed failed to properly limit access to employees who need to know the information before the public." The Associated Press.
Economic growth in Q2 2013 revised up to 2.5 percent. "The nation’s gross domestic product increased at a 2.5 percent annual rate during the second quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a significant step up from the initial estimate of 1.7 percent. The report offered an optimistic offset to recent data showing a slowdown in the housing market. But economists warned that the factors driving the better performance were unlikely to be repeated later this year." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.
Number of bank failures falls as sector heals. "When Phoenix-based Sunrise Bank of Arizona was closed by regulators last week, it became the 20th bank failure of the year. In 2010, the worst year for bank failures since 1992, regulators closed the 20th bank in mid-February. The change reflects the resurgence of U.S. banks, which have seen their combined earnings climb for 16 consecutive quarters..."We're looking today at a banking industry that is significantly stronger than it was three years ago," FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg told reporters Thursday." Michael R. Crittenden in The Wall Street Journal.
Jobless claims fall to 331,000. "First-time benefit claims, a proxy for layoffs, decreased by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000 in the week ended Aug. 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. The figure matched economists' expectations. The prior week's level was revised up by 1,000 to 337,000. Claims have remained near a five-year low since late July, suggesting that businesses are at least confident enough in the economy to retain existing staff. At the same time, hiring has continued at a steady, if slow, pace." Eric Morath and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.
Humor interlude: NPR tells The Onion's story.
3) I see red in the budget and I want it painted black
U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary. "The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress. The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees." Barton Gellman and Greg Miller in The Washington Post.
To hunt Osama bin Laden, satellites watched over Abbottabad, Pakistan, and Navy SEALs. "The U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden was guided from space by a fleet of satellites, which aimed dozens of receivers over Pakistan to collect a torrent of electronic and signals intelligence as the mission unfolded, according to a top-secret U.S. intelligence document. The National Security Agency also was able to penetrate guarded communications among al-Qaeda operatives by tracking calls from mobile phones identified by specific calling patterns, the document shows. Analysts from the CIA pinpointed the geographic location of one of the phones and linked it to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where other evidence suggested bin Laden was hiding." Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.
Explainers: America’s secret intelligence budget, in 11 charts. Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post. 2013 U.S. intelligence budget: Additional resources. The Washington Post.
Obama’s intelligence czar vows to release his own transparency report. "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will begin releasing annual reports about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activity in the coming months, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has confirmed. The report will disclose the total number of court approvals granted for a range of surveillance requests, including national security letters as well as those made under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.
The NSA has its own team of elite hackers. "So just what is Tailored Access Operations? According to a profile by Matthew M. Aid for Foreign Policy, it’s a highly secret but incredibly important NSA program that collects intelligence about foreign targets by hacking into their computers, stealing data, and monitoring communications. Aid claims TAO is also responsible for developing programs that could destroy or damage foreign computers and networks via cyberattacks if commanded to do so by the president...There, he says, some 600 members of the unit work rotating shifts 24-7 in an “ultramodern” space at the center of the base called the Remote Operations Center (ROC)." Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.
Warning, deeply disturbing interlude: Footage you've never seen before of 9/11 from the Hudson River.
4) Unions turning against Obamacare
How the Obamacare defunding fight became a political showdown. "The fight over defunding ObamaCare is a fight conservatives have spent months itching for. But few thought it could have intensified so fast, especially after President Obama’s reelection triumph, and Democrats picked up seats in both chambers of Congress last November...The following is a timeline of how the debate unfolded." Sam Baker in The Hill.
Adults in the Northeast and Midwest are relatively well-insured. The rest of the country not so much. "More than one in four Texans under the age of 65 lacks health insurance, more than any other state in the nation. Florida is next, followed by Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Those results are from a new Census Bureau report released Thursday morning detailing health insurance rates at the state and county level." Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.
Trumka: ‘Mistakes’ made in Obamacare design. "“It still needs to be tweaked,” said Trumka, who pointed to the possibility that union members will lose their health insurance because of the inability of some union plans to qualify for federal tax subsidies...Without that change, labor believes their members could lose their health coverage and be forced onto the ObamaCare insurance exchanges, which are set to open this October." Kevin Bogardus in The Hill.
Obamacare’s cost-control programs may be contagious. "An early cost-sharing program in Massachusetts designed to cut costs for private Blue Cross Blue Shield patients also lowered costs for Medicare patients who were seen by the same providers, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association...“The spillover savings in Medicare that we found suggest that at least some of the interventions providers adopted in response to the AQC [the private BCBS Alternative Quality Contract] changed the way care was delivered for all patients,” assistant professor J. Michael McWilliams, said in a news release." Jenny Gold in The Washington Post.
Genetic treatment extends life of mice by 20 percent. Next up, humans. "By reducing the activity of one type of gene, scientists said they increased the average life span of mice by about 20%, a feat that in human terms is akin to extending life by about 15 years. Moreover, the researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that memory, cognition and some other important traits were better preserved in the mice as they aged, compared with a control group of mice that had normal levels of a protein put out by the gene. The findings, published Thursday in the journal Cell Reports, strengthen the case that the gene, called mTOR, is a major regulator of the aging process...Though mouse studies don't always translate to humans, Dr. Finkel and other researchers said the results raise the possibility that targeting the gene with drugs that inhibit its activity might one day be at least part of a strategy for prolonging longevity in people." Ron Winslow in The Wall Street Journal.
Historical interlude: How the political map of Europe has changed over 1000 years.
5) Diners' Club disbands
White House, Republican senators give up on budget talks. "The Obama administration and a group of Republican senators abandoned efforts Thursday to hammer out a budget deal and avoid a showdown over the national debt, saying they had failed to resolve their long-standing dispute over taxes...The end of the talks comes just over a week before Congress is to return from its summer break to confront a series of imminent deadlines, including the risk of a government shutdown Oct. 1 and potential default on the national debt a few weeks after that." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.
Private sector shrugs off sequester. "The latest reading of second-quarter gross domestic product released Thursday showed that the economy grew faster than previously estimated from April to June, its best performance since last year's third quarter. That was during a period when budget cuts, which started in March, were expected to take a bite out of economic growth." Jonathan House in The Wall Street Journal.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
America’s secret intelligence budget, in 11 (nay, 13) charts. Dylan Matthews.
The famous “47 percent” are now down to 43 percent. Brad Plumer.
Syria: The very, very basics. Dylan Matthews.
How Obama demobilized the antiwar movement. Brad Plumer.
Obamacare’s cost-control programs may be contagious. Jenny Gold.
What’s the future of drug policy? An interview with America’s ‘Drug Czar.’ Harold Pollack.
White House says it will close two loopholes in gun sales laws. Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Obama Energy Dept. proposals would make commercial fridges, coolers more efficient. Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
IRS shifts to equal tax treatment for same-sex marriages. Josh Hicks and Ruth Tam in The Washington Post.
Immigration advocates claim 'resounding win' in quiet August. Russell Berman in The Hill.
With NCLB rewrite uncertain, feds offer to renew waivers. Caitlin Emma in Politico.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.