Two-Months Paid Time Off for Spitting?

June 3, 2010

Want another argument against the way government handles public employment? Take a look at this recent article from the New York Times noting how, on average, 51 New York City bus drivers who took paid leave for simply being spat on took 64 days off. Again, that’s paid time off.

Naturally, according to the report, the unions are supportive of this:

Spitting falls under the category of assault in the drivers’ contract with the authority. And officials at Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents city bus operators, said the extended absences were justified. “Being spat upon — having a passenger spit in your face, spit in your mouth, spit in your eye — is a physically and psychologically traumatic experience,” said John Samuelsen, the union’s president. “If transit workers are assaulted, they are going to take off whatever amount of time they are going to take off to recuperate.”

Imagine the private sector putting up with such abuse of the system. But the public (read: government) sector is all-too-often immune from reality when it comes to costs, much to the detriment of taxpayers.

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Rent Control and Quality

May 25, 2010

Imagine paying less than $157 per month for two conjoined studios in the upper east side of New York. That is the result of the government-imposed regulation known as rent control — something that is apparently increasingly becoming scarce.

A recent New York Times article notes the following:

While it is less true today, rent-regulated apartments have provided some New Yorkers with very comfortable lives. [John] Burke, who grew up in Ireland on a farm outside Galway, moved to New York in 1964 to be close to his brother upstate and his 100 relatives in Massachusetts. He worked in restaurants and bars and collected decades of tales of celebrity sightings and romances. He moved into his current apartment in 1977, when the rent was $65, and filled his closets with handsome clothes.

But the report also notes the unintended consequences resulting from this dubious form of government price controls:

The deteriorating low-priced apartments still exist partly because landlords have little financial incentive to make renovations or apply for rent increases. Stabilized rents increase by order of the local Rent Guidelines Board, typically around 3 percent a year, while controlled rents can go up only if the landlord files an application for an increase with the state, a laborious process. And the state will not allow a rent increase if an apartment has major housing code violations.

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Government Disincentived Oil Company Responsibility?

May 5, 2010

Did a government program not only lessen the incentive for oil companies to safeguard against oil spills but also add to the price of oil at the same time?  This may be the case given the facts spelled out in a recent New York Times article.

The article notes the following:

The federal government has a large rainy day fund on hand to help mitigate the expanding damage on the Gulf Coast, generated by a tax on oil for use in cases like the Deepwater Horizon spill. … Under the law that established the reserve, called the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, the operators of the offshore rig face no more than $75 million in liability for the damages that might be claimed by individuals, companies or the government. The fund was set up by Congress in 1986 but not financed until after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989. In exchange for the limits on liability, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 imposed a tax on oil companies, currently 8 cents for every barrel they produce in this country or import.

To what degree does this “rainy day” fund actually represent another example of the unintended consequences of government policies? Could the guaranteed limit on liability for oil companies actually decrease their financial incentive to avoid oil spills like the recent BP incident in the Gulf of Mexico?

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Subsidizing Unemployment

April 21, 2010

Coincidently or not, President Obama signed a further extension to unemployment benefits on April 15, Tax Day — a move that will cost more tax money. The bill extended some individuals’ benefits to a whopping total of 99 weeks (quick math: That’s nearly two years).

Though initial state unemployment benefits are funded through taxes on employers, federal extensions like this one are funded by the U.S. Treasury (read more details here). Translation: taxpayers are on the hook for subsidizing more weeks of unemployment checks for millions of Americans.

Though earlier this year, the idea of “paygo,” paying for new spending as it is voted on, was agreed on, The New York Times notes the following

… the Senate resolved a stubborn (emphasis added) impasse, deciding the $18 billion cost of the measure could be added to the deficit.

Since when is insisting on actually paying your bills considered “stubborn”? Since politicians decided they could win votes by making more individuals dependent on government subsidization.

And all of this has been done despite the earlier view of one of Obama’s chief economic advisors that unemployment insurance is an actual cause of long-term unemployment. In writing on the causes of long-term unemployment, that advisor, Lawrence Summers, observed the following:

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A Representative Court?

April 14, 2010

In the wake of the announcement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement from the bench, one point raised in several media outlets has been the fact that he is the only Protestant on the 9-justice court. Take for example this article from The New York Times.

Among other things, the article states the following:

His retirement, which was announced on Friday, makes possible something that would have been unimaginable a generation or two ago — a court without a single member of the nation’s majority religion.

The type of thinking that sees it necessary for the makeup of the Supreme Court to represent the country as a whole is nothing new. The same logic has been behind calls from both Democrats and Republicans for so-called “mainstream” judges, however that may be defined by partisans, as well as pushes to replace outgoing female justices with new female justices.

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Government Spending Since 1962

February 24, 2010

Here is an interesting chart showing how the federal government has spent money since 1962, courtesy of the New York Times “Economix” blog: 

Source: Office of Management and Budget. Numbers for 2010 and beyond are projections. Data do not include undistributed offsetting receipts.

Notice the decrease in defense/military spending and increase in the spending on Health and Human Services. Keep that in mind the next time someone says our debt is solely because of military spending or that our government spends more money on wars than it does promoting the welfare of individual citizens.

One Year of ‘Recovery’

February 17, 2010

To mark the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, here are some of my previous posts on the less-than stellar results of the “stimulus”:

Also of note is this recent CBS News/New York Times poll showing that only 6 percent of people think the stimulus package has actually created jobs. So much for bringing “hope” to the people.

Increasing Executive Power?

February 16, 2010

A recent New York Times article reports that the Obama administration is preparing to advance its agenda through “presidential executive orders and directives.” Here are a couple of interesting excerpts from that article:

Mr. Obama has not given up hope of progress on Capitol Hill, aides said, and has scheduled a session with Republican leaders on health care later this month. But in the aftermath of a special election in Massachusetts that cost Democrats unilateral control of the Senate, the White House is getting ready to act on its own in the face of partisan gridlock heading into the midterm campaign.

Already, Mr. Obama has had to reconcile his campaign-trail criticism of Mr. Bush for excessive use of so-called signing statements to bypass parts of legislation with his own use of such tactics. After a bipartisan furor in Congress last year, Mr. Obama stopped issuing such signing statements, but aides said last month that he still reserves the right to ignore sections of bills he considers unconstitutional if objections have been lodged previously by the executive branch.

So not only is the president seemingly intent on growing the size and power of the federal government in general, but he also appears to be moving to increase the specific power of the executive branch as well. There’s a reason the U.S. Constitution spends more words on defining the scope of Congress than it does the Presidency.

Government Dependence Getting Popular?

February 12, 2010

According to this recent New York Times story, food stamps are not only becoming popular, but the stigma traditionally associated with them is dwindling. What’s particularly disturbing is that some are touting the program as a means to economic growth.

Here’s one telling quote from the story:

Neighborhood groups recruit clients at churches and grocery stores, with materials that all but proclaim a civic duty to apply — to ‘help New York farmers, grocers, and businesses.’

posted on a similar story last week, where the Secretary of Agriculture was promoting food stamps (now euphemistically called the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” because of the stigma associated with the old name) as a part of the economic recovery. I also addressed the flawed logic in that thinking in the post.

What’s especially worrisome is that not only is dependence on government on the rise, it’s now becoming popular in some circles.