Category Archives: Business

57,000 Federal Workers On Paid Leave For Months: WaPo

The Washington Post has written about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that makes the claim that over 57,000 federal workers are on paid administrative leave for over a month.

Tens of thousands of federal workers are being kept on paid leave for at least a month — and often for longer stretches that can reach a year or more — while they wait to be punished for misbehavior or cleared and allowed to return to work, government records show.

During a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone.

(…)

But a forthcoming report by the Government Accountability Office found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 more were kept off the job for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years. The study represents the first time auditors have calculated the scope and cost of administrative leave.

All of this is despite clear government regulations stating that paid time off should never go beyond a few days; the Justice Department, in one example, limits the time to ten days unless the assistant attorney general approves a longer period. However, one particular case – of someone who was put on leave, and wanted a resolution – indicates a clear problem with the left hand not talking to the right:

“Six months went by and we didn’t hear anything,” said Scott Balovich, who was put on administrative leave from his computer job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska. “You’re so anxious. You don’t know if you’ve got a job. You’re getting paid, but it’s no vacation.”

Balovich was kept out of work while investigators examined how pornographic images had gotten onto his computer hard drive. He ultimately was cleared of any personal involvement and returned to his job last week. His attorney, Debra D’Agostino, a founder of the Federal Practice Group, said he “got stuck in the inertia of bureaucracy.”

Linked in the piece is another WaPo report from December 30, 2012, going over the minutia of the federal workers themselves when they get stuck in legal pergatory.

Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general for the National Archives, planned to ring in the new year with his wife with a relaxed visit to their vacation home near Bethany Beach, Del. In October, the couple took a cruise to Puerto Rico. Brachfeld runs every morning in Silver Spring, hikes with Spree, his Jack Russell terrier, in the woods most afternoons and catches up with his adult daughters in the evening. All while collecting his $186,000 government salary.

These days, his life seems like one long vacation. The veteran watchdog for the historical records agency is entering his fourth month on paid time off, one of an unspecified number of federal employees who are collecting paychecks and benefits to do .?.?. nothing. At least nothing to advance the immediate interests of the government.

(…)

In a system that rarely fires people, no one can say how many are on paid administrative leave. It’s one number the government apparently doesn’t track.

There are many reasons for this, and most of them involve a desire to not be sued by workers. Between union contracts, interpersonal squabbles and outright sour grapes, workers are a threat to sue their employer, and when it’s the federal government, there’s additional layers of oversight, obfuscation and confusion worked in. This leads to many people having an interest to prevent that from happening, and those people tend to work slow.

As far as direct supervisors – middle managers – are concerned, putting someone on administrative leave is a win-win situation: they get rid of a problem for whatever reason, and they don’t have to pay the person so they could care less. What’s another $50,000? But it adds up, to the tune of $775m, plus benefits, and asking the government to oversee itself in this case is like asking a wolf to guard the flock.

The answer, however, isn’t necessarily to just make government work right-to-work. Between existing workers unions (which have brought good things to American workers all around, whether they’re union or not), the continued skittishness of the existing job market, and the potential for abuse due to personal or political connections – imagine a Democratic takeover of an office resulting in any Republicans in that office being thrown out onto the streets – going completely right-to-work would be a tremendous shock to the system that would damage workers and cause tremendous instability in public sector work. The only justification for that is that the resulting inefficiency that comes from such high turnover could potentially lead to a reduction in government because the existing one isn’t working, but breaking ones toys to get new ones is never a solid answer.

The answer here is simply stronger enforcement: five working days of leave, with back pay due if no issues are found or if termination cannot be adequately justified. If an HR department cannot build a case for termination within that amount of time, then the worker can go back to work, even if they’re a “threat”. It will force people to think long and hard before going that route. Government bureaucrats who need a fainting couch reading that can simply look at the other side of the argument – full right-to-work, which I’m sure many of my colleagues would argue for – and pick which side they prefer.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Michigan lets its crony capitalism flag fly

Michigan lawmakers are looking out for auto dealers. Sounds nice, right? Well, it does if you’re a new car dealer who doesn’t like the fact that that upstart auto maker Tesla hasn’t followed the herd when it comes to selling their new cars.

The state’s legislature recently passed a bill that bans direct sales of new cars to customers, requiring a dealer to broker the sale. The bill is awaiting signing by governor Rick Snyder.

From Bloomberg:

The National Automobile Dealers Association, which represents almost 16,000 new-car dealers, favors the franchised-dealer network.

“States are fully within their rights to protect consumers by choosing the way cars are sold and serviced,” Charles Cyrill, a spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “Fierce competition between local dealers in any given market drives down prices both in and across brands. While if a factory owned all of its stores, it could set prices and buyers would lose virtually all bargaining power.”

Are states “fully within their rights” to block consumers purchasing a legal product directly rather than going through an approved agent? I’m going to say that they’re not. At all. Sure, there may be no laws that expressly forbid them from doing it (though this seems more a case for the Federal government under the Interstate Commerce Clause), but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This is a big old “don’t”. » Read more

First, I’d like to take a moment to mention how great it is to be posting something to The Liberty Papers. In 2009, I joined with a friend in a project he had started where we blogged about area politics. I’d blogged a little bit here and there before about whatever random things, but my libertarian streak had never really gotten a chance to fly.

Suddenly, I had a platform. To say it changed my life was…well, a significant understatement. It lead to me getting to know some pretty cool people, many of whom are here at The Liberty Papers. It gave me the opportunity to first write for a local newspaper, and then eventually buy it. While that didn’t necessarily work out, it was yet another example of me being able to write a lot of words in a fairly short amount of time. So, I did like a lot of people and decided to write a book. Bloody Eden came out in August and is available at Amazon (or your favorite book website for that matter).

Now that we’ve gotten the history out of the way, a bit about the politics. First, I’m probably best described as a classical liberal. At least, that’s what every “What kind of libertarian are you?” quiz has told me, and they’re probably right. I’m a constitutional libertarian, for the most part. If the Constitution says they can do it, it doesn’t mean they should, but if the Constitution says they can’t, then they can’t. It just doesn’t get any simpler than that.

I look forward to contributing here at The Liberty Papers.

#GamerGate: The Microcosm of the Culture Wars

As a games writer by trade, it’s been funny watching mainstream news sites pick up the story known simply as “GamerGate”. Everyone from Reason to The New York Times has picked up on the story, with some doing a better job of reporting a two month old story than others. Naturally, the articles have a slant of their own for the most part that goes along that site’s political lines, and the signal-to-noise ratio at this point has gotten so poor that it’s hard to even remember what caused all of this in the first place.

When looking at GamerGate, it’s important to remember a couple of points:

1) Ultimately, it’s really not about video games, it’s about culture. GamerGate is a microcosm of the culture wars.
2) Everyone is missing key free-market solutions to all of the issues brought up.

I will preface, in the interests of full disclosure, a few things about myself in this that people will want to bear in mind as they read everything below the cut. First, I have been, on my video game Twitter feed (@gamingbus), 100% anti GamerGate. Also, as previously mentioned, I spent a while writing about video games, centred around the industry itself, for a living, a perspective I believe few other political sites have, so a lot of the smoke regarding issues with women – particularly opinionated ones on both sides of this issue – has a fire that I’ve personally witnessed. With that in mind, I will do my utmost to keep this one down the middle. » Read more

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

136 Companies Band Together to Close “Police Loophole”

Just about everyone has heard of the “gun show loophole” by now but there’s another gun loophole that some of the gun manufacturers themselves with to close: the police loophole.

What exactly is the police loophole? According to thepoliceloophole.com, this is the site’s definition:

There are some states, counties, cities, and municipalities in our great nation that fail to allow their citizens to fully exercise their right to keep and bear arms with restrictions such as magazine capacity or types of firearms. However, these government entities do not place these restrictions upon their own employees, such as police officers.

Now that the police loophole has been identified, what are the people behind the site planning to do about it? They have compiled a list which they describe:

This is a list of companies that have taken the step to publicly announce that they will not sell items to states, counties, cities, and municipalities that restrict their citizens rights to own them; therefore closing the “police loophole” themselves. It is important to note that we are against gun control; we are not against any particular government agency or individuals.

I cannot express how much I love this idea. So far, there are 136 firearms companies (primarily) on the list; 136 companies using a market approach to fight back against government at all levels that would infringe on the rights of an individual to bear arms. One might say they are “going Galt” by not selling their products to the very government that would disarm us. It’s a bold move and I’m sure this will cost these companies a good deal of money (who knows, some might go out of business…let’s hope not).

So if you are in the market for a new firearm, ammunition, magazine, or whatever, check the list and patronize these companies. And be sure to thank them for making this courageous stand against tyranny.

Farming in an Equilibrium Trap

JayG wrote something today about how this summers drought is hitting farmers very hard; which is absolutely true. And it’s already having an impact on food prices, and that impact is just going to grow.

The crop that’s being impacted worst is dent corn, which makes up the majority of livestock feed in this country; particularly beef feed. This is exacerbated by the governments ethanol mandates, which take even more of the feed corn crop out of the feed market.

Over the next couple months, we’re going to see beef prices crash, as ranchers and feedlots come to the end of their stored feedstocks and slaughter more steer than normal (so they don’t have to keep feeding them), and then SOAR to highs we haven’t seen in years over the fall and winter.

Jay points out that some are “blaming subisidies” for the state of things… which I think is silly, you can’t blame subsidies for weather (well… usually… Microclimate and regional climate adjustments due to overplanting can sometimes be blamed on subsidies… but that’s not what we’re talking about here).

But honestly, there’s something that no-one wants to admit, no-one wants to say, and no-one wants to hear in this country….

We have too many damn farmers.

By far.

Probably by more than half, at least for some crops.

In particular we have too many grain farmers. In even greater particular, we have far too many corn and wheat farmers.

We have a natural market for corn and wheat that would support… something like half… of the farmers that we have now.

All of those people who are only making money because of subsidies; we really don’t need them growing corn or wheat.

Either they need to grow something else, or they need to sell their land and stop being farmers.

Even the argument that it “keeps our food prices low” is false; because it actually keeps them higher most years. If there were no subsidies, the market would find its natural level of supply, demand, and price; and the resources inefficiently allocated to subsidized crops would simply be allocated elsewhere (and I’m not even going to get into the second order effects of this regime like obesity, HFCS vs. sugar pricing, ethanol etc…).

But we don’t want to hear it.

We are constantly being presented with images of the “struggling family farmer”… And have been for over 100 years.

Shouldn’t that tell you something?

There are plenty of very profitable and prosperous farmers in this country, and plenty of large farming corporations that do quite well…

And who are they?

They’re farmers that grow crops which don’t get subsidies, who have found ways to be economically efficient; or they are farm corporations who have found ways to extract the maximum amount of government benefits.

Again… shouldn’t that tell you something?

When a business is failing, that doesn’t tell you “we need to subsidize it”, it tells you we need to reduce its regulatory and tax burdens and operational restrictions (stop artificially reducing its competitiveness); or we need to let that business die.

Farming is no different from any other business. If it’s not competitive, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to do it (unless it’s of importance to national security, and thus can’t be outsourced or offshored; and even then that’s an iffy one, and we should still be encouraging competitiveness internally ) and we shouldn’t be rescuing or subsidizing it.

Why on earth have we been subsidizing these non-viable crops for 80 years?

Oh wait… I know… it’s because to get elected president, you need to win the majority of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio; and to be elected to congress (outside of a major urban constituency anyway) or win those states in the general election, you have to support subsidies for grain farming.

Right now, these farmers are in an equilibrium trap, where because of government subsidies they can just barely get by; but because of inefficiency, actual market conditions etc… they can’t get ahead

The way to deal with equilibrium traps, is to break out of them completely. You can’t do that by keeping on doing what put you in the trap to begin with; and they’ve been doing that for 80 years.

If we stopped subsidizing these crops, people would take huge losses in the first few years; particularly as their land prices fell dramatically. It would hurt. A few hundred thousand people would take a big hit…

An aside about numbers: there are about 2.3 million “farms” in the united states. 65% of all crops are produced by 9% of all farms (which farm 59% of the agricultural land), and 85% of all crops are produced by 15% of all farms.

Of the appx. 2.3 million “farms”, about 2.1 million are considered “family farms”. About 1.9 million of those farms are considered “small family farms”, which have gross revenues of less than $250,000 per year, and produce less than 15% of all crops. Of those, about 35%, produce about 9% of the total crops in this country and are generally considered viable. 40% are essentially “hobby” or “part time” farms that produce less than 3% of all crops per year. It’s the 25% or so of those 2 million farms, which only produce 3-4% of all crops, and which are basically non-viable, that are the biggest issue.

Oh and 10% of all farms receive 75% of all subsidies, for producing about 25% of all crops. Corn, wheat, cotton, rice, soybeans, dairy, peanuts, and sugar, make up 97% of subsidies. Corn and wheat alone make up 52%, cotton about 14%, rice and soybeans another 23%). The VAST majority of those subsidies go to large corporate feed grain farms in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio, and to Cotton farms in Texas (Texas produces 30% of all cotton in the U.S., with Arkansas, California, Mississippi, and Georgia accounting for another 40%); NOT to small family farmers

And then, we would be better off as a nation; and THEY would be better off as individuals. They, and their children, would no longer be trapped into a just barely livable, just barely getting by, dependent on the government economic condition for decades. They would move to more productive more useful employment. They would be better off eventually, as would the country as a whole.

The problem? Many of them don’t want to. They WANT to be farmers, even though they KNOW it’s a bad business. They love being farmers. They’ve been farmers for generations in their family. It’s all they know, it’s what they’re passionate about, it’s part of their culture and they can’t see ever doing anything else.

Well… I want to be an Aerospace Engineer, and design and build airplanes; or even boats (many boat designers are also aerospace engineers. It’s a very similar field of study). It’s what I trained for, and I love it and am very passionate about it.

But it’s not viable for me.

There are more than enough airplane designers out there for the market as it exists today; so I can’t find employment as an airplane designer. The fact is, very few new airplanes are being designed.

Now, I’m the first to say that we should get the excessive regulatory burden out of the way of the aircraft industry, and if we did that it’s likely that more aircraft would be designed and more aerospace engineers could find jobs…

But would you say that just because I can’t find a job in the field I was educated in, that we should subsidize that field just so I could?

…Well… Sadly, some would… Or at least they would, if the field I was in was politically or socially favored… But anyone with any sense or integrity knows better.

We have romanticized the idea of the “family farmer” in this country for far too long.

The fact is, it is no longer economically viable, nor is it necessary, for many of these people to be farmers, and we should stop enabling the equilibrium trap constantly keep them locked into farming, but always on the edge of failing.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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