VA Bureaucracy

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New EPA Rules Burn Red State Democrats

From NPR:

While many on the left embraced the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules to reduce coal-burning power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, some red state Democrats couldn’t put enough distance between themselves and the Obama administration. You would have had a tough time, for instance, distinguishing the reaction of Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes from that of the man she hopes to replace, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican.

“President Obama’s new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky. Coal keeps the lights on in the Commonwealth, providing a way for thousands of Kentuckians to put food on their tables,” she said in a statement Monday. “When I’m in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the President’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority.”

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Obama goes rouge on GITMO

From Politico:

President Barack Obama swore as far back as 2008 he’d close the U.S.-run prison for terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay. Five and a half years later, he finally took a real risk to get that process moving.

The president defied Congress over the weekend, ignoring a 30-day notice rule required by law to greenlight the transfer to Qatar of five alleged members of the Taliban held at Guantánamo, in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.

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France hosts dueling dinners for Obama, Putin

From Yahoo:

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande certainly won’t go hungry this Thursday night. He’s dining twice — first with U.S. President Barack Obama, then with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It will be a digestive and logistical challenge, but the safest diplomatic solution for the French president to keep apart two leaders who are at odds.

Hollande is hosting at least 18 heads of state this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Obama and Putin are among them, but do not plan one-on-one talks. U.S.-Russian tensions are higher than they have been in years because of the unrest in Ukraine.

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Veterans facing criminal charges

From the OC Register:

ANAHEIM – They lost 14 Marines in nine days in Afghanistan. “At first it’s fear – fear of everything.” says former Navy corpsman Alex Klatt, 25, of Huntington Beach. “Then you just go numb.”

Then you feel guilt. In Klatt’s case, guilt led to drinking. The drinking led to a fistfight. And the fight led here: to a special court known as Veterans Treatment Court.

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‘Taliban Dream Team’: 5 prisoners traded for Bergdahl’s freedom

From Fox News:

A top Republican senator called Monday for an “immediate hearing” to investigate the controversial release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom, as he and others raised alarm that the administration just freed the “Taliban Dream Team.” New questions are surfacing about the terms of the deal, as details emerge about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners sent to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl – who was a Taliban captive in Afghanistan for the past five years.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee calling for a hearing. He said the prisoners “have American blood on their hands and surely as night follows day they will return to the fight.”

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Are Pre-Existing Condition Bans Still With Us?

From NPR:

“Welcome to Cigna,” said the letter, dated May 16, on behalf of my new employer, the Kaiser Family Foundation. The letter also said the insurer was placing me on a one-year waiting period for any pre-existing conditions.

Seriously? Wasn’t the health law supposed to end that? “We have reviewed the evidence of prior creditable coverage provided by you and/or your prior carrier and have determined that you have 0 days of creditable coverage,” the letter said.

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EPA administrator says critics ‘crying wolf’

From the L.A. Times:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy offered a blunt defense Monday of the Obama administration’s new rule to cut carbon dioxide pollution, touting its benefits against mounting criticism from the coal industry and some members of Congress. “Given the astronomical price we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing we can do is to do nothing,” McCarthy told a room full of staff members and environmental allies at the EPA headquarters in Washington.

She added: “There are still special interest skeptics who will cry the sky is falling. Who will deliberately ignore the risks, overestimate the costs, and undervalue the benefits. But the facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70% and the economy has more than tripled.”

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Federal authorities refuse holding some immigrant inmates

From the L.A. Times:

More than a dozen California counties have stopped honoring requests from immigration agents to hold potentially deportable inmates beyond the length of their jail terms, saying the practice may expose local sheriffs to liability. In recent weeks, officials in counties including Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino have stopped complying with so-called ICE detainers, citing a federal court ruling in April that found an Oregon county liable for damages after it held an inmate beyond her release date so she could be transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

The California counties are among about 100 municipalities across the country that have stopped the practice since the ruling, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an advocacy group that is tracking the issue.

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Marginal Politicians

In economics, “marginal” refers to trade-offs faced in making choices, which typically involve getting more of one thing and less of another. However, political rhetoric commonly misrepresents them as all or nothing. That is why we could use more politicians who are marginal in getting the relevant tradeoffs right, rather than in being “barely adequate, if that.”

Failing to think at appropriate margins is a staple of politics. For instance, politicians are always telling people what they are for. But that is typically not what citizens really want to know, since politicians largely claim to be “for” the same things (e.g., peace, our “general welfare,” etc.) and “against” the same things (e.g., corruption, special interests). What we really want to know is often the terms at which they would trade off one thing they are for against other things they are for, or at which they would accept what they are against to get more of something else they are for–i.e., what it will take to “sell us out” on various issues.

Political abuse of “need” reflects failure to think at the margin. Since choices are typically between different “needs,” it diverts attention from the actual choices faced. And since its primary political use is to assert that someone ought to have something they don’t, it distracts from the redistributive payoff: How much will A’s supposed need require B to pay for A’s benefit?

“We” also generates confusion when government provides some special treatment, because of disproportionate distributions of benefits and burdens. One illustration is that when people assert “we” should provide certain goods and services, they usually mean “someone other than me” should pay, whether through taxes or other mechanisms (e.g., property owners forced to provide habitat for endangered species at their expense, although any benefits are shared by all). Without clearly spelling out who will actually be forced to pay how much, as is typical, we cannot analyze the real tradeoffs involved.

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Categorical language represents another marginal misunderstanding. One thing (e.g., food) is often asserted to be categorically more important than others. However, the relative values of goods actually depend greatly on circumstances and preferences (e.g., food might be “more important” than sleep, but most people disagree when their alarm goes off in the morning). And claims to such “special” status are made for everything anyone wants subsidized, implying that everything is special compared to everything else, which is logically impossible.

The mirage of central planning “solutions” also fails the marginal thinking test. Those who claim planning is the cure for every social ailment ignore the fact that markets and the prices they generate are the only way we can accurately discover people’s marginal willingness to trade off among goods. When government short-circuits market processes (e.g., price controls or government takeovers of privately provided goods and services), it makes that crucial information unknowable. That, in turn, requires that centralized planning necessarily throws away massive mutual gains markets enable.

Failing to think at the margin blinds many to trade’s mutual benefits. They think market exchanges involve equal values or even harmful exploitation, rather than recognizing that exchanges create wealth because voluntary arrangements occur only when all parties expect their incremental benefits to exceed their incremental costs. Misunderstanding gains from trade, they fail to see the harm society suffers from restricting it, a fallacy behind a host of harmful government policies.

Marginal misunderstanding permeates public policy, particularly because people think less carefully about other people’s money than their own. That is why marginal thinking provides valuable protection against political snake oil. There is no other way to force politicians to spell out and defend the real positions and tradeoffs they would impose on citizens, by stripping away such misrepresentation and misdirection.

Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and author of Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014).