How well can a shrimp perform on a treadmill? It’s a question that has puzzled mankind for ages. Fortunately, some researchers at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, are in the process of answering it — at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of a mere $682,570 (and counting).

The project first came to light in an April 2011 report on the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Coburn, famous for his annual reports on government waste, found what he considered to be “over $3 billion in mismanagement at NSF,” including $1.5 million to build a robot that can fold laundry (at a rate of one towel every 25 minutes), $300,000 to study whether Facebook’s FarmVille helps build personal relationships, and (at the time of the report) $559,681 to see if shrimp’s treadmill performance is impaired by disease. Since then, says CNSNews.com, the shrimp research grant has been increased to $682,570.

The study is, in fact, not as ridiculous as it sounds. According to a description of the study on the NSF’s website, it aims to discover how “human-made marine stresses [are] affecting the marine life we need.” Specifically, College of Charleston biology professors Louis Burnett and Karen Burnett

On December 22 President Barack Obama released the following message through the White House’s Twitter account: "Thanks to all who shared #40dollars [sic] stories. Today's victory is yours. Keep making your voices heard — it makes all the difference. — bo"

This was in direct response to the Republican House of Representatives capitulating to the President and the Democratic Senate and allowing a shortened 2-month extension of the payroll tax cut, rather than forcing through the 1-year extension that the GOP was gunning for.

 

President Obama started off his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, on December 6 with a positive nod to free-market economics.  Referring to Theodore Roosevelt’s economic thoughts, Obama acknowledged that the free-market system has been the most successful system in history in delivering the highest standard of living to the greatest number of people: “He believed then what we know is true today, that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and a standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.”

But then Mr. Obama added a disclaimer, a large one. “But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can.”

That opens the door to more than putting Bernie Madoff in jail. Given the high degree of elasticity in their egalitarian and redistributive goals, it can give a free license to politicians to take whatever they can from whomever they can.

Mike Shedlock, who has been watching the Jefferson County, Alabama, municipal bond bankruptcy and default closely, has turned up some more fraud. It appears that the original bonds issued to pay for the county’s new sewage treatment plant weren’t bonds after all, but warrants. But they were sold as the same thing, backed by the “full faith and credit” of the county. In the event of bankruptcy investors holding the warrants were to be first in line to receive their interest payments, ahead of any other creditors. And if there isn’t enough money even for that, the investors were assured that the county would do whatever is necessary to redeem them, even if it meant raising taxes or fees on the citizens.

But a warrant isn’t a bond; instead, it is merely a right granted to its holder to purchase a bond in the future. The county board of commissioners decided against issuing bonds as that would have required a referendum by the taxpayers who, at the time, were already suffering from increased sewage rates — four increases over the past 10 years. The likelihood of approval was between slim and none.

What do Americans fear the most: big business, big labor, or big government? According to the latest Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans surveyed at the beginning of December said the biggest threat that would face the nation in the future would be government — a jump of 11 percentage points from the beginning of the Obama years in 2008, when only 53 percent said government was the threat to keep one’s eye on.

Not surprising for many conservative Americans, the only time the fear of government was at a higher peak was in 1999 to 2000, at the tail end of the Bill Clinton years, when a whopping 65 percent of Americans thought government would be the biggest future threat.

Back in 1965 Gallup began asking Americans: “In your opinion, which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future — big business, big labor, or big government?” And throughout the past 45 years, Americans have always expressed more concern over government than they did for business or organized labor. “Concerns about big business surged to a high of 38% in 2002, after the large-scale accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom,” recalled Elizabeth Mendes, deputy managing editor at Gallup. She noted that concerns over big labor “have declined significantly over the years, from a high of 29% in 1965 to the 8% to 11% range over the past decade and a half.”

A new graphic emerged on WhiteHouse.gov this week featuring a "countdown clock" followed by an alluring question, "What does $40 mean to you?" Reinforcing its persistent drive to extend the payroll tax cut, the Obama White House has showcased a countdown ticker on its website heralding the days, hours, minutes, and seconds left until the payroll tax benefit expires, prefacing it with, "If the House doesn’t act, middle class taxes increase in…"

In an effort to fuel public outcry, the Obama White House also integrated an online submission form that allows "working" people to express how an increase in the payroll tax will affect their financial standing. "Tell us what $40 per paycheck would mean for you and your family," the website reads. "What would you have to give up? We’ll highlight your stories publicly so that they’re part of the debate here in Washington." Moreover, the website avers:

 

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy just released a study showing that by the time all federal and state loans, grants, subsidies, and tax credits are figured in, each Chevy Volt costs taxpayers upwards of $250,000.

James Hohman, the center’s assistant director of fiscal policy, counted a total of 18 government “deals” but didn’t include the fact that one-quarter of Volt’s manufacturer, General Motors, is owned by the federal government.

He counted not only incentives offered directly to GM or to the ultimate buyer, but also those offered to suppliers of parts and technology for the Volt. The Department of Energy, for example, awarded a $106 million grant to GM’s Brownstone plant that assembles the Volt’s batteries. The State of Michigan awarded $106 million to GM to retain jobs in its Hamtramck assembly plant. And Compact Power, the company that makes the Volt’s batteries, received $100 million in “refundable battery credits.”

Some of the subsidies and credits are extended over varying periods of time and some are dependent upon certain production “milestones” being achieved. He counted them all along with subsidies to companies vying to provide batteries for the Volt such as the support provided to A123 Systems. A123 lost the battery contract to Compact Power, but Hohman included their subsidies in his study as well.

Is it certain that the nations of the European Union are heading for a hard fall? It certainly looks that way. When the overspending of governments such as Greece, Portugal, and Ireland were involved, the threat to the euro was real, but it could be psychologically contained (an important factor in maintaining the stability of financial institutions). Those three nations, after all, are small. Spain, the fourth member of the “PIGS,” was more than half the size of the Italian economy, but much of the industrialized West has viewed Mediterranean nations as inherently volatile.

Two months ago, however, Italy — one of the largest economies in the world — had its sovereign debt downgraded by Standard & Poor’s and then by Moody’s, which reduced the bond rating for Italian government bonds by three notches. The GDP of those five nations — Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain — equal about $3.7 trillion, or more than 20 percent of the economy of the European Union.

The latest news is that France could have its AAA credit rating downgraded before Christmas. Standard & Poor’s is expected to make that decision imminently.

Due to new federal air pollution regulations, more than 32 power plants across the country will be forced to close their doors, according to a recent Associated Press survey. Those plants, which are mostly coal-fired, discharge enough electricity to supply more than 22 million households, the survey notes, and their closure will lead to job layoffs, depleted tax revenues, and a considerable hike in electric bills. The areas that will be hit hardest are the Midwest and in the coal belt (Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky), where dozens of plants will likely be retired.

Two regulations are in question: One aims to curb air pollution in states downwind from pollutant-heavy power plants; and the second, which was finalized last week, would enact the first standards for mercury, acid gas, and other pollutants from plant smokestacks. In total, the new regulations could eliminate more than eight percent of coal-fired generation nationwide.

AP’s survey, the first of its kind, looked at the analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of plant retirements and interviewed 55 power plant operators about the effects on power supply and about their plans to deal with the new regulations.

On Monday, Gordon Chang, the author of The Coming Collapse of China and regular contributor at Forbes.com, was interviewed on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker, where he observed, “If you look at all of [China’s] indicators, they all point down.”

Among those indicators were electricity consumption (flat), car sales (flat), property prices (collapsing), and industrial orders (down). And there is more to come, much more. The Chinese communist government is slowing the rate of growth of the money supply in order to “fight inflation,” the natural result of nearly 30 years of expanding that money supply in order to catapult the Chinese agrarian economy into the 21st century. And such slowing is having the same expected effect: As the economy slows down, bankruptcies increase, tax revenues decrease, and the economy slows down further.

Chang added, “We’ll see more obvious signs of deterioration in the Chinese economy over the next six months.” He noted that one of those signs is the increasing civil unrest including riots, bombings, and insurrections taking place across the country.

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