The Edge: Stepping Into the Unknown

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Stepping Into the Unknown

One committee of Congress has approved military action against Syria, and in the coming days we'll find out if President Obama has the votes to make good on his "red line" warnings. But one thing we probably won't get is substantial new information.

We know what we know about Syria's actions and the myriad risks. War is always a wager made on imperfect information—sometimes recklessly so, as in the case of Iraq, where phony clues became a casus belli and, if that wasn't bad enough, there was a willful failure to plan for the occupation of Baghdad.

But even if you're Eisenhower at Normandy or Reagan at Grenada—to compare opposite poles—you're going to be stepping into the unknown. So let the debate go forth. Just don't count on it being very edifying.

Matthew Cooper


WITH SYRIA AS BACKDROP, OBAMA ARRIVES IN RUSSIA FOR G-20 SUMMIT. President Obama landed in St. Petersburg today for the Group of 20 international summit—officially convened to discuss global economics—as most onlookers remained focused on the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which have reached new heights due to the Syrian conflict, The New York Times reports. Obama, fresh off a brief sojourn in Sweden, arrives in Russia at a time when President Vladimir Putin is sharpening his rhetoric, saying earlier in the week that any conclusion that the Syrian government deployed chemical weapons on its citizens was "completely ridiculous." The two world leaders feigned cordiality as Obama faces added pressure from other nations to not launch a military strike against Syria. Read more

  • Seating at the G-20 is alphabetical, but event planners reportedly have opted for the Latin alphabet over Russia's preferred Cyrillic to keep the U.S. and Russia farther apart, Politico reports. Read more

NSA IS WINNING A LONG-STANDING 'WAR ON ENCRYPTION.' By way of "supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders, and behind-the-scenes persuasion," the National Security Agency is succeeding in its fight against encryption protections to undermine "the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age," The New York Times reports. Among the digital utilities for which the NSA has cracked encryption are global commerce and banking systems, trade secrets, medical records, e-mails, phone calls, and Internet searches. The war against encryption, a method of digitally scrambling and protecting sensitive data, traces back to 2000, when such tools were proliferating around the Internet, prompting the NSA to invest billions in a "clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop." Read more

SYRIAN REBELS A GROWING PROBLEM FOR NATIONS SEEKING ASSAD OUSTER. The factious, unruly, and brutal rebel forces in Syria are increasingly causing difficulty for Obama and others trying to sell a military strike against President Bashar al-Assad's forces, The New York Times reports. Concerns about the goals of the rebels—some of whom are linked to terrorist networks—were a point of contention when Secretary of State John Kerry made his case before some skeptical lawmakers earlier this week. Russia, meanwhile, claims it has assembled a 100-page document showcasing evidence that rebels are responsible for the reported Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack. A Times interactive is tallying in real time where lawmakers stand on the authorization-of-force vote. Read more

  • Syria's neighbors in the Middle East are worried about the destructive capabilities of the Assad regime's bioweapons programs and what might be done with certain lethal agents if the country continues to deteriorate, The Washington Post reports. Read more

7 MILLION U.S. HOUSEHOLDS STRUGGLED TO FEED THEMSELVES IN 2012. Nearly 6 percent of American households knew severe hunger in 2012, according to a new report out from the Agriculture Department. That means that 7 million households in the United States faced what the USDA calls "very low food security," National Journal's Matt Berman reports. Over the course of 2012, 17.6 million American households were more generally food-insecure at some point during the year. The numbers are also bleak for households with children, which had a higher rate of food insecurity (20 percent) than the national average for 2012. These rates particularly spiked for households led by a single woman (35.4 percent). Read more

KAISER: ACA PREMIUMS WILL BE 'LOWER THAN EXPECTED.' The Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study today concluding that individual premiums under the Affordable Care Act will be cheaper than other calculations have predicted, The Hill reports. The study, which provides a chart comparing how much the different tiers of coverage will cost in different big cities across the country, suggests that "while premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are generally lower than expected." The numbers also tally how much premiums will cost for people of different ages and incomes, which has been a major source of contention between the law's supporters and detractors. Premium costs were not compared to current prices, but to recent Congressional Budget Office projections of costs under the ACA. Read more

BOMB ATTACK NARROWLY MISSES EGYPT'S INTERIOR MINISTER. A suspected car bomb hit the convoy carrying Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim today, in what is being described as an assassination attempt and the first of its kind on a senior government official since the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the Associated Press reports. Ibrahim oversees Egypt's police, and his targeting may signal that another wave of violence could soon grip the country. The explosion wounded at least 22 police and civilian bystanders and damaged three vehicles in the convoy. An investigation is ongoing, and aims to determine the origin of the blast, but officials tell the AP that a parked car loaded with explosives is likely the source. Read more

MORE JOBS DATA FURTHER FUELS TALK OF FED TAPERING. Another spate of economic news released today indicates vitality in the jobs market and service sector, strengthening mounting conventional wisdom that the Federal Reserve could start slowing down its $85 billion monthly bond-purchasing program as soon as this month, Reuters reports. The good numbers, however, were tempered with reports of falling orders for factory goods, underscoring continued uncertainty about the nation's economic forecast for the rest of 2013. The pace of service-sector growth accelerated in August, clocking in at the fastest rate in almost eight years and exceeding most economists' expectations. Additionally, private employers added 176,000 jobs in August, and jobless claims fell last week to nearly a five-year low. Read more

TEA-PARTY GROUP TO AIR TV AD ATTACKING MITCH McCONNELL ON OBAMACARE. A leading tea-party group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has booked a $340,000 television-ad buy in Kentucky attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his failure to join the movement to defund Obamacare. "McConnell's the Senate Republican leader, but he refuses to lead on defunding Obamacare," says the ad, a copy of which was shared with National Journal'sShane Goldmacher. "What good is a leader like that?" The ad is set to air from Sept. 6 through Sept. 17, according to the group. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which was founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint but is now independent of him, has not endorsed McConnell's Republican primary opponent, Matt Bevin. Read more

EVERYONE AGREES ON HIGH-SKILLED WORKER VISAS. SO WHY NO CHANGES? Few issues in the immigration debate enjoy the broad-based agreement that exists about how the U.S. should treat highly skilled workers, National Journal's Rebecca Kaplan reports. Democratic and Republican lawmakers largely agree that it should be easier for the United States to attract and retain experts in specialized fields of work. Companies large and small want the ability to hire more such immigrants. And the workers themselves—thousands of them, from all over the globe—want to come. Yet plans to revise the H-1B visa program, which is the primary vehicle for foreign workers to live in the U.S.—and often a precursor to citizenship—have been tied to a comprehensive immigration bill that has a very uncertain future. Read more


OBAMA TAKES PART IN G-20 EVENTS. President Obama, attending the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, will attend a session on investing in growth and jobs, and participate in the G-20 Leaders working lunch on growth and trade.

FIRST LADY HOSTS 'LET'S MOVE!' EVENT AT D.C. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. First lady Michelle Obama will take part in an event to announce new commitments for "Let's Move! Active Schools" at 1 p.m. at Orr Elementary School, 2200 Minnesota Ave. SE. Mrs. Obama will be joined by retired NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, Olympic champion sprinter Allyson Felix, retired Olympic champion gymnast Dominique Dawes, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and Reebok North America President Uli Becker.


"I think if you were going to look up 'principled leader' in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Linc Chafee." —Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat, who announced Wednesday that he won't seek reelection (Providence Journal)


MIRANDA VS. WILSON? Kent Russell writes for The New Republic about his two weeks spent on Restoration Island with Dave Glasheen, a former business executive who says he lost about $10 million during the 1987 Australian market crash. Glasheen moved to the island—with its mosquitoes, poisonous spiders, and saltwater crocodiles—in the '90s, but he hasn't been alone the entire time. He had a girlfriend, but she eventually left; he hosted McDonald's Chairman Fred Turner in 2003; even Russell Crowe stopped by on his honeymoon in 2003. (Glasheen now refers to a mannequin, named Miranda, as his girlfriend.) Glasheen, who tends to speak in what Russell calls a "monologic torrent," is hoping to get $500,000 to restore his part of the island. Russell went there needing a break from life, but by the end, he writes, "he could not wait to wake up in a place that was not this place. Which was exactly how he wound up here." Read more


  • @AmbassadorRice: This morning, went live - follow it for updates on the situation in Syria and POTUS' response to the use of CW

  • @jbendery: :( RT@markknoller: Pres. Obama walks alone to the G20 dinner - about 1/2 hr after all the other leaders walked over as a group..

  • @TheFix: The "Battle Royal" is an underrated concept — in wrestling and in life.

  • @pkcapitol: Ever fall sound asleep on flight, wake up near landing, look for monuments and Capitol? Only to realize youre flying into BWI. That guy.

  • @pourmecoffee: Twerking dinner RT @joshgerstein: Syria now on official G20 agenda for discussion at working dinner tonight

  • @NirajC: Oh God, is it a tapeworm? RT @AP: The secret to weight control may be living inside you: -KK

  • @ByronYork: WH officials bristle at this, but Obama should really stay away from the golf course for the next few weeks. Even if the weather is good.


FINDING THEIR HAPPY PLACES. The New England Complex Systems Institute has published research on the happiness of Twitter users across New York City, using emoticons included in tweets to create a map of public moods, The Atlantic reports. Public outdoor areas, including Central Park, rate as some of the most positive areas in the city, while Maspeth Creek, a Superfund site in Brooklyn, and Riker's Island, which contains New York's main jail complex, were both pretty bleak. See it here


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