The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wonkbook: On Syria, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat

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.

- The vote to authorize force is off -- for now. On Tuesday night, President Obama announced that he “asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

There are two reasons the vote is off. One is that, unexpectedly, a better path has opened. The other is that the White House and its allies would very likely lose -- if they were going to win, they'd hold the vote and use the authorization as leverage with Russia and Syria.

- Mr. Magoo for secretary of state! People have been unhappy with the options on Syria for months, and even years, now. But no one thought to propose "have Secretary Kerry indiscreetly muse about hypotheticals in interviews" as a way forward. That, however, turns out to have been the secret.

Russia and Syria have proposed a trade: The United States forswears force against Syria, and Syria signs the treaty banning chemical weapons and turns its stockpiles over to the international community for destruction. In theory, that gives the White House exactly what it says it wants: It ends Assad's ability to use chemical weapons, reinforces the international norm against chemical weapons, and doesn't dramatically upset the balance of power in the civil war.

Of course, that's in theory. The deal has to be formalized into a U.N. Security Council resolution that both sides find acceptable. The United States wants to make sure the disclosure and destruction of the weapons are real. Russia wants to close the door against force in Syria. As Max Fisher argues, reconciling these demands won't be easy. But it doesn't make much sense for the White House to set the bar extremely high here. They're playing a weak hand to begin with, and their other option -- strikes that Congress may or may not even permit -- is not a good one.

- The deal vs. Obama's strikes. The draft proposal calls for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles under international supervision. But as Yochi Dreazen, among others, points out, it's likely impossible to locate, transport and destroy tons of chemicals during a civil war.

But so what? Dropping bombs on Syria also doesn't destroy Assad's stockpiles of chemical weapons. In fact, it doesn't destroy any of his stockpiles unless something goes terribly wrong, as bombing a chemical weapons depot just sends a plume of deadly gas into the air.

If Assad credibly commits to not using chemical weapons during the civil war, and to entering a process that will end with their destruction if his regime survives, that seems far better than anything the United States can achieve through strikes. And if he reneges, well, we can always strike later -- and perhaps with more international support, given Syria's betrayal of a deal many other countries would've committed to.

- The Obama administration is playing a weak hand. A new Pew poll shows the percentage of Americans who oppose airstrikes on Syria has grown from 48 percent to 63 percent in recent weeks. Even a majority of Democrats oppose the plan. And Congress isn't going to reverse its skepticism with public opinion trending the other way. So it's perhaps not even accurate to say that the Obama administration can choose between strikes and cutting some kind of deal with Russia. The strikes, at this point, may be little more than a bluff -- though one that the White House needs to keep credible.

- The deal won't end Assad's slaughter using conventional weapons. The harsh reality of all of these options is that they would do nothing about the conventional weapons responsible for more than 99 percent of the deaths in Syria. The White House has never considered, and Congress has expressly rejected, the kinds of interventions necessary to end the bloodbath.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 9/11. 

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Top tenth of earners now rake in half of all U.S. income, a record. Data from 1920 to 2012, graphed.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Syria, Syria, Syria; (2) fiscal jitters return; (3) down with the Dow; (4) NSA breaking the rules 89 percent of the time; and (5) update on energy and environment.

1. Top story: On Syria, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat

Obama takes Syria case to the public in White House address. "President Obama said Tuesday he would seize one last diplomatic opening to avoid military strikes on Syria but made a forceful case for why the United States must retaliate for its alleged use of chemical weapons if the effort fails. In a nationally-televised address from the White House, Obama cautiously welcomed a Russian proposal that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, signaling that he would drop his call for a military assault on the regime if Assad complies. But with little guarantee that diplomacy would prevail, Obama argued that the nation must be prepared to strike Assad." Zachary A. Goldfarb and David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Transcript: President Obama’s full remarks on SyriaThe Washington Post.

Liveblog: You can't keep up with the twists and turns on this Syria storyThe Washington Post.

Explainer: The basics of where we now stand on the whole Syria thingPeter Baker, Heather Murphy, Liam Stack, and Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Senators, Obama want to delay Syria vote. "Senators agreed after meeting with President Obama on Tuesday that they would wait to consider a resolution to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Syria to allow surprise diplomatic efforts to play out in the coming days...[A] bipartisan group of senators began coalescing around a proposal that would call on the United Nations to condemn the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its people and order U.N. inspectors into the country to recover the weapons." Ed O'Keefe and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Dismantling Syria's chemical-weapons arsenal seen as impractical. "Carrying out Russia's plan to dismantle Syria's stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin and VX nerve agents is viewed as a long shot by many diplomats, top experts and current and former U.S. officials...Few American or European diplomats are confident Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will fully declare the extent of his government's weapons stockpile, given Damascus's track record of deceiving the international community...While officials wouldn't discuss their estimates of how much of the stockpile they have under observation, officials said they have confidence they are tracking the vast majority of the chemical weapons." Jay Solomon in The Wall Street Journal.

@ianbremmer: Obama: The US will not intervene in Syria civil war. Stop using chemical weapons, and Assad is no longer our problem.

A long path led to offer on chemical weapons. "The idea that has upended President Barack Obama's push for a military attack on Syria—tossed out as an aside by his secretary of state at a news conference—had been discussed with Russia over the past year and more frequently in recent weeks, according to a U.S. account of the discussions...In April, Mr. Kerry made his first trip to Moscow as secretary of state and took part in a dinner with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that lasted until 2:30 a.m. They discussed a model for eliminating Syria's chemical weapons, much as Libya agreed to give up its nuclear program a decade ago." Peter Nicholas and Adam Entous in The Wall Street Journal.

The Syria “escape hatch” has downsides for Obama. "If it fails, Syria will still have chemical weapons and Obama may look like he got played. One could foresee weeks of bureaucratic discussion, inspections, reviews and debates, which could all ultimately fall apart while Assad hides his chemical weapons." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

@TobinCommentary: A short #Obama #Syria speech that shouldn't have been made. A web of contradictions seeking to spin historic weakness.

Kerry: ‘Exceedingly difficult’ for Syria to satisfy terms of Russian proposal. "”We have made it clear to them … that this cannot be a process of delay, this cannot be a process of avoidance,” Kerry said during his opening remarks at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. “It has to be real, measurable, tangible. And it is exceedingly difficult – I want everybody here to know – to fulfill those conditions.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@brianbeutler: "If you pin prick Syria does it not bleed?" #FutureKerryRetorts

U.N. clash looms over Syria resolution and its enforcement. "A nearly immediate impasse over a United Nations resolution on removing Syria's chemical weapons sent American, British and French diplomats into a huddle on Tuesday, as they sought to craft a version stern enough to ensure Syrian compliance without spurring a Russian veto.... One option for the Western allies would be to dial their resolution back to Chapter 6 of the U.N. charter. Chapter 6 calls for peaceful settlement of disputes, allowing a call for Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons under international supervision, without a threat of force. But a Chapter 6 resolution could also call for "further measures" — shorthand for the authorization of force — in a second resolution if Syria doesn't comply." Stacy Meichtry, Sam Dagher, and Gregory L. White in The Wall Street Journal.

Poll: Airstrikes on Syria are getting much less popular over timeBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Hill's Syria strike opponents meet. "A bipartisan group of about 30 senators and representatives huddled Tuesday morning in the bowels of the Capitol to plot the demise of any congressional resolution authorizing U.S. military force in Syria." Burgess Everett in Politico.

@blakehounshell: [O]ne thing that's happening on this Syria thing is the twilight of the foreign-policy establishment. Public no longer defers to "wise men."

McConnell will oppose Syria resolution. "McConnell becomes the only top party leader in Congress to oppose the use of military force, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are all in favor." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Interview: Drought helped cause Syria’s war. Will climate change bring more like itBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

How much would a strike on Syria cost the U.S.? "[The CBO] issued a mere one-page report on the matter. So, how much do the analysts think a strike on Syria would cost? The short answer, from that short report: No idea...During testimony last week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered a ballpark estimate of how much the potential and yet-to-be-defined military action against Syria could cost. “We have looked at the different costs, depending on the different options, depending on the decision the president makes,” Hagel said. “We have given some ranges of this. It would be in the tens of millions of dollars, that kind of range.”" Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Obama taps Heather Higginbottom as deputy secretary of state. "The White House on Tuesday announced more than two dozen nominations for various senior positions, including Heather Higginbottom to be deputy secretary of state — the first woman named to that job. In March, Secretary of State John Kerry named Higginbottom, who was his legislative director in the Senate from 1999 to 2004, to be counselor at State. She had been deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget at the time." Al Kamen in The Washington Post.

@BuzzFeedAndrew: "Advent Truth Ministries" emails me unsolicited to tell me a Syria strike is part of the End Times prophecy. Smartest take so for.

KLEIN: The White House may really be about to win on Syria. "The White House just achieved its goal. Remember: The White House’s aim here wasn’t to topple Assad, or even hurt him. It was to affirm and reinforce the international norm against chemical weapons...Assad is now agreeing to preserve and strengthen that norm. He’s agreeing to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons — a treaty Syria has been one of the lone holdouts against. He’s creating a situation in which it would be almost impossible for him to use chemical weapons in the future, as doing so would break his promises to the global community, invite an immediate American response, and embarrass Russia. This is, in many ways, a better outcome than the White House could have hoped for." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

IOFFE: Obama just got played. "This, apparently, is how diplomacy happens these days: Someone makes an off-hand remark at a press conference and triggers an international chain reaction that turns an already chaotic and complex situation completely on its head, and gives everyone a sense that, perhaps, this is the light at the end of the indecision tunnel...There are two clear winners in this slow-motion train wreck, and they are not Obama or Kerry. They are Assad and Putin. Both wanted, for their own reasons, to avert a military strike, and a military strike was averted. Putin insisted on a diplomatic solution while doing everything to make a diplomatic solution impossible, and now he gets his phony, unenforceable diplomatic solution. Assad wanted to go on killing his opposition, and he will continue to do so." Julia Ioffe in The New Republic.

FRIEDMAN: Threaten to threaten. "Let’s have no illusion. There’s still a real possibility that the Russians and Syrians are just stalling and will fudge in the end, and even if one or both are serious, there are formidable logistical and political obstacles to securing Syria’s chemical weapons swiftly and completely. Part of me wonders: Has anybody thought this through?...I think it is worth Obama and Congress threatening to schedule a vote to endorse Obama’s threat of force — if the Syrians and Russians don’t act in good faith — but not schedule a vote right now." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Obama made a very good argument on Syria — and a very bad one. "At this point, the White House has a surprisingly good plan to avoid war while achieving the limited goal of disarming Assad’s nuclear arsenal. But it relies on them making a very bad argument for a much larger war with much broader, more humanitarian, objectives." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

IGNATIUS: The Syrian deus ex machina. "When the ancient Greek or Roman playwrights had painted themselves into a corner, plot-wise, they sometimes resorted to the dramatic device known as the deus ex machina, in which one of the gods was hoisted over the stage and dropped in to resolve the otherwise inchoate drama. Something similar happened this week with Syria.... Cue the gods (in Moscow!).... Anyone who thinks this week’s events were simply a theatrical accident should go back to drama school." David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

KLEIN: The five best arguments for striking Syria — and the best rebuttals. "The spread of arguments for invading Iraq were catastrophic: Americans were not prepared, and ultimately did not support, the war they got. The arguments for striking Syria are generally narrower and better founded. But after speaking with a number of the war’s supporters and critics, it’s clear the rationales are, nevertheless, numerous, and occasionally contradictory." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Supertramp, "The Logical Song," 1979.

Top opinion

PORTER: Counting the cost of fixing the future. "What would you pay to protect the world in which your great-great-grandchildren will live from hurricanes, drought and the like?...Interestingly, the main source of the vast discrepancy between the two figures is not a disagreement about the future damages of warming...The government’s rendition of the moral approach implies that it is worth making every investment to reduce carbon emissions that has a rate of return of at least 2.5 percent, in terms of avoided damages. Businesss logic suggests that no investment should be made if the return — after taxes — is less than 5 percent." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

BLINDER: Five years later, financial-crisis lessons left unlearned. "One response in Dodd-Frank was a "risk retention" rule requiring issuers of asset-backed securities to retain at least 5% of the credit risk, rather than pass it all on to investors...The 5% requirement does not apply to "qualified residential mortgages" (QRMs)—a term left to regulators to define, but intended to exempt safe, plain-vanilla mortgages with negligible default risk...The lighter-touch option would exempt almost 95% of all mortgages from the skin-in-the-game requirement. The "tougher" option would exempt almost 75%. Does anyone doubt which option will be favored by interested commentators? After that, what will be left of the Dodd-Frank requirement?" Alan S. Blinder in The Wall Street Journal.

KEAN AND HAMILTON: Homeland confusion. "Nine years after the 9/11 Commission made its case, our country is still not as safe as it could and should be. Though the vast majority of our recommendations have been followed, at least in part, Congress has not acted on one of our major proposals: to streamline the way it oversees homeland security...[W]e argue that the American people will be safer if Congress takes a clearer, less complicated approach to its supervision of national security. Congress needs to treat the Department of Homeland Security as it does the Departments of Justice and Defense and give primary oversight responsibility to fewer committees." Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton in The New York Times.

YGLESIAS: Corporate America has forgotten how to invest. "These kinds of financial high jinks are inherent to the business world. But it’s depressing and disturbing that this is what the biggest deals and most aggressive fundraising in corporate America look like today...Getting back to a healthier economy is going to take better public policy. But it will also take a bolder, more imaginative executive class that’s willing to tap financial markets to buy in to big ideas and big investments, rather than just buying up their own stock." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

DAVIDSON: Our debt to society. "Rather than resulting in a sudden crisis, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a slow bleed. Scott Mather, head of the global portfolio at Pimco, the world’s largest private bond fund, explained that while governments and institutions might go on a U.S.-bond buying frenzy in the wake of a debt-ceiling panic, they would eventually recognize that the U.S. government was not going through an odd, temporary bit of insanity. They would eventually conclude that it had become permanently less reliable." Adam Davidson in The New York Times.

Here are graphs Wonkblog won't like interlude: These are the worst ever.

2. Fiscal jitters return. 

We could breach the debt ceiling as soon as Oct. 18. Here’s what happens next. "We finally have a date for the debt-ceiling showdown. Doomsday is expected to arrive this year between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5. That’s according to a new analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center. At some point in those two weeks, the Treasury Department will have exhausted all its options and will no longer have enough money to meet its financial obligations. Either Congress lifts the debt ceiling or the federal government will have to default on some of its bills." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

House releases short-term spending resolution. "House Republicans on Tuesday released a copy of their short-term spending resolution for 2014, which covers federal government spending through December 15. That language is accompanied by a concurrent resolution that says no money can be spent to implement the 2010 healthcare law known as ObamaCare. Based on the texts released on Tuesday night, the House GOP plan appears to be to pass the short-term spending resolution, and then pass the concurrent resolution blocking spending on ObamaCare. The latter language makes a technical correction to the main spending resolution to incorporate the limitation on ObamaCare spending. Assuming the House passes both resolutions, the Senate would be able to pass the short-term spending language, but could choose not to pass the concurrent resolution on ObamaCare." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

Hill leaders to meet on shutdown. "Capitol Hill’s top four lawmakers will meet privately Thursday to begin discussing the debt ceiling and how to avert a government shutdown...The fiscal issues come up in rapid succession this fall. Government funding runs dry at the end of September. The House is likely to try to pass a continuing resolution this week which would fund the government until Dec. 13.... The debt ceiling will be hit in October." Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan in Politico.

House conservatives cool on GOP spending plan. "House GOP leaders on Tuesday proposed a plan to fund the government through mid-December while forcing the Senate to vote on cutting funds for the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But conservatives unhappy with the health-care law have reacted with skepticism, saying that while it may compel the Senate, controlled by Democrats, to vote on health-care cuts, it won't lead to the dismantling of the program." Corey Boles in The Wall Street Journal.

Life interlude: We have stuff going back 100,000 years now.

3. Down with the Dow 

Dow drops three companies from index. "Alcoa Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Bank of America Corp. will be dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average next week, in the biggest shake-up of the 30-stock index in almost a decade. Alcoa, a Dow component for 54 years, will be replaced by athletic-gear maker Nike Inc. Payments company Visa Inc. V will replace H-P, which joined the index in 1997, and securities firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS will supplant Bank of America, which spent five years in the blue-chip benchmark." Matt Jarzemsky and Colin Barr in The Wall Street Journal.

The Dow Jones industrial average is ridiculous. "It is tempting to use this occasion as an opportunity to examine the symbolism of what this says about Corporate America, and the global economy...But in reality, it really only shows the utter uselessness of the Dow Jones industrial average for measuring anything. It is an accident of history that the Dow is the most widely cited measure of how the overall stock market is doing, and a bad accident." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Soaring housing recovery could create supply bottlenecks. "How long does it take for the U.S. economy to build a house? The question matters as signs of a shortage appear in parts of the housing market: Land ready for building is scarce, few homes are for sale and construction workers are putting in more hours than ever before. That’s because houses aren’t built in a day. If demand rises quickly enough, it will strain the ability of the market to supply new homes, and government is making it worse. It’s best to think of the housing market as a pipeline. It takes a while for the end producing houses to respond to the end selling them. So if demand conditions change sharply -- as they are now -- that can spawn a bottleneck as production tries to catch up." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

In economic recovery, rich get ever richer. "An updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty shows that the top 1 percent of earners took more than one-fifth of the country’s total income in 2012, one of the highest levels recorded in the century that the government has collected the relevant data. The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of all income. That is the highest recorded level ever." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

On the Volcker rule, SEC has writers' block. "The Volcker rule, a centerpiece of the sweeping overhaul of financial regulation known as Dodd-Frank, is an attempt to protect the financial system from risk. It is simple in concept. Banks are prohibited from making investment bets with their own money. But it has proved fiendishly difficult to apply...Those working on it, including 22 officials who have a vote on the final outcome, have spent years jousting over everything from trading definitions to the location of meetings. One gathering of banking regulators and Securities and Exchange Commission officials involved a two-hour discussion of a single phrase relating to "market making," the buying and selling of securities on behalf of clients. Officials have tried to cut each other out of the process and have withheld documents. At one point, a group of regulators agreed to travel across Washington for a negotiating session only when tempted by fast-food fried chicken." Scott Patterson and Deborah Solomon in The Wall Street Journal.

Mortgage lenders and homebuyers feel squeeze of rising interest rates. "A rise in interest rates is slamming homeowners' demand for mortgages, prompting large and midsize banks to cut jobs and warn investors of declining profitability in the home-loan business." Robin Sidel and Shayndi Rice in The Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street has so far crushed a drastic foreclosure fix. One California town could change that. "In late July, the city issued letters to the holders of the notes on 624 homes asking them to sell the city the mortgages at fair market value. The letters were refused. Instead, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, acting as trustees for a laundry list of securities trusts, sued in U.S. District Court to stop the city from moving forward with the program. What’s more, the Federal Housing Finance Agency threatened to quit lending in jurisdictions that went the eminent domain route, which fair housing groups argue would be illegally discriminatory." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

Labor secretary pledges aggressive defense of workers' rights. "Labor Secretary Tom Perez pledged a vigorous defense of workers' rights in his first major speech to organized labor Tuesday, sketching out an agenda that hit on the movement's core issues but raised some concerns among the business community. Mr. Perez, addressing the AFL-CIO's quadrennial conference here, said the Labor Department would help restore the middle class by defending collective-bargaining rights, aggressively enforcing wage laws and taking steps to improve workplace safety." Melanie Trottman in The Wall Street Journal.

Oh my god this is so great interlude: Jimmy Kimmel reveals twerking prank.

4. 11-percent compliance is something, right?

NSA violated privacy protections, officials say. "The National Security Agency's searches of a database containing the phone records of nearly all Americans violated privacy protections for three years by failing to meet a court-ordered standard, according to court documents released Tuesday. The documents showed the violations continued until a judge ordered an overhaul of the program in 2009.... Between 2006 and 2009, however, of the 17,835 phone numbers checked against phone records, only 1,935 were based on that reasonable-suspicion standard, intelligence officials said...In a March 2009 order that was declassified Tuesday, Judge Reggie Walton of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the government had so "frequently and systematically violated" the procedures it had said it was following that a critical element of the program "never functioned effectively."" Siobhan Gorman and Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

NASA interlude: Shuttle tech.

5. Energy-and-environment update

Vehicle fuel efficiency reaches new high, making progress towards 2016 goal. "A study released by the University of Michigan on Tuesday said that the average fuel economy on the window stickers of cars and trucks sold last month was 24.9 miles per gallon. That was nearly five miles per gallon better than the 20.1 m.p.g. recorded in October 2007, when the university’s Transportation Research Institute began tracking the data." Bill Vlasic and Jaclyn Trop in The New York Times.

Industry wants to talk to EPA on power-plant regs. "Industry groups are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure they’re “actively included” as the agency crafts carbon emissions standards for power plants, a pillar of President Obama’s climate agenda. In a new letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, groups representing manufacturers, coal producers, power companies, refiners, railroads, agribusiness and other sectors press for rules that are “economically achievable” using existing technology." Ben German in The Hill.

Imagining a cyberattack on the U.S. power grid. "More than 200 utilities and government agencies across the country, from Consolidated Edison to the Department of Homeland Security to Verizon, are now expected to sign up for the largest emergency drill to test the electricity sector’s preparation for cyberattack. The drill, scheduled for November, will simulate an attack by an adversary that takes down large sections of the power grid and knocks out vast areas of the continent for weeks." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Arctic ice surpasses 2012 level. "The area of Arctic sea ice was nearly 30% greater in August than a year ago, according to recent satellite data, though projections based on longer-term trends suggest the sea ice will continue its decline over time. Arctic sea ice covered 2.35 million square miles in August, up from 1.82 million square miles a year earlier, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC, in Boulder, Colo. The level recorded last year was a record low." Gautam Naik in The Wall Street Journal.

California loosens environmental law that restricts development. "A landmark law that has been a symbol of California’s tough environmental philosophy for more than 40 years is facing an unlikely challenge from Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, who contend that regulations protecting the environment have been abused and are thwarting legitimate development.... [T]he changes Mr. Steinberg is championing — which include exempting urban projects from parking and aesthetic reviews, and speeding up the pace of litigation — are considerably short of the broader rollback of environmental reviews sought by business leaders." Adam Nagourney in The New York Times.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Apple is thinking about the mobile phone market in a whole new wayNeil Irwin.

Teach for America is a deeply divisive program. It also worksDylan Matthews.

If all states expand Medicaid, Obamacare still leaves millions uncoveredSarah Kliff.

Obama made a very good argument on Syria — and a very bad oneEzra Klein.

President Obama’s full remarks on SyriaWonkblog.

Airstrikes on Syria are getting much less popular over timeBrad Plumer.

The White House may really be about to win on SyriaEzra Klein.

We could breach the debt ceiling as soon as Oct. 18. Here’s what happens nextBrad Plumer.

The five best arguments for striking Syria — and the best rebuttals. Ezra Klein.

Ignore Anthony Weiner. Here’s what matters in the NYC mayor’s raceDylan Matthews.

Drought helped cause Syria’s war. Will climate change bring more like it? Brad Plumer.

The Dow Jones industrial average is ridiculousNeil Irwin.

Wall Street has so far crushed a drastic foreclosure fix. One California town could change thatLydia DePIllis.

Et Cetera

SeaWorld caps workers' hours, avoiding Obamacare mandateSam Baker in The Hill. 

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.