The field of private space ventures is gaining a new competitor, Stratolaunch Systems, the brainchild of former Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. According to press reports, Allen is prepared to commit at least $200 million of his own fortune to the creation of a launch vehicle he believes will allow for inexpensive launches of satellites into low Earth orbit.

While the U.S. government’s manned space program has floundered for years, lacking a destination and the will to develop new launch vehicles in a timely fashion to replace the obsolete space shuttle, several private corporations are actively pursuing technologies for carrying people and cargo to Earth orbit.

On December 13, Allen announced the creation of Stratolaunch Systems, which would, the company claimed, reunite Allen and Burt Rutan “to develop the next generation of space travel.” Allen and Rutan collaborated on SpaceShipOne, which flew in September 2004. According to a corporate press release, the goal of Stratolaunch Systems is to “bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years. The air-launch-to-orbit system will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems.”

The New American has been reporting on the controversy surrounding the Christmas season, particularly when Christians attempt to display the Nativity scene or assert the holiness behind the Christmas holiday in any way. These reports would seem to indicate that Christmas brings out the worst in people; however, it's salutary to note that it also brings out the best. A prime example of the latter can be found in reports from Kmarts across the nation that anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts in the spirit of the holiday.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, for example, an employee at the Kmart confirmed that an anonymous donor sent a $500 gift card to pay $100 on five different layaways. Store manager Barb Winowiecki then randomly selected which accounts to fund through the gift card.

“Those with layaways are in for a happy surprise when they come in to pay on their account,” Winowiecki observed. “We’re not informing them ahead of time, so they can have a happy surprise.”

“Unlike giving to organizations," she added, "people who anonymously donate this way know exactly where their money is going. It seems to be contagious. A local resident paid on another person’s layaway.”

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on the West Coast moved into a new phase of “direct action” this past week with efforts to close down shipping at major ports from San Diego, California, to Anchorage, Alaska. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) organizers designated Monday, December 12 as “Occupy the Ports Day” and had hoped to inspire ongoing strikes and blockades that would shut down import-export commerce long-term. However, except for the stoppage of shipping at Oakland, California, the plan has failed to achieve anywhere near the magnitude of disruptions that organizers had hoped for. Smaller OWS blockades at ports in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, caused lesser disruptions, while most other ports continued normal operations, as small groups of protesters marched, chanted, and sometimes attempted to block traffic in and out of port facilities.

Police in some cities prevented demonstrators from blocking port traffic. In Oakland, however, several hundred OWS activists were allowed to close entrances to America’s fifth busiest port, costing the city, workers, and businesses several million dollars. Under orders from city officials, Oakland police allowed the Occupy demonstrators to carry out their day-long disruption without police interference, in an effort to avoid violent confrontation. However, when organizers voted to continue the disruption through Tuesday, December 13, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan accused them of “economic violence” against the city and the 99 percent they claim to represent.

Use this "Agenda" issue to set goals for yourself and to explain the JBS to others.

JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for December 19-25, 2011.

With threats of continuing debates over the payroll taxcuts well into the congressional holiday vacation, it seems members of Congress are anxious to reach an agreement soon. Last week, both the Democratic and Republican Senate proposals for how to handle the expiring Social Security payroll tax cuts failed, forcing Congress back to the drawing board. On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another piece of legislation which now requires a vote in the Senate; however, it’s one that has already faced trouble in the upper house.

The measure passed on a virtual party-line vote, 234 to 193, with just 14 Republicans opposing the bill and 10 Democrats supporting it. It “extends payroll tax relief, extends and reforms unemployment insurance and protects Social Security — without job killing tax hikes,” asserts Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

The Blaze reports, "The Social Security payroll tax cuts approved a year ago to help stimulate the economy would be extended through 2012, avoiding a loss of take-home income for wage-earners. An expiring program of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless would remain in place, although at reduced levels that the administration said would cut off aid for 3.3 million."

The most prevalent theme in President Barack Obama's Dec. 6 Osawatomie, Kan., speech was the need for greater "fairness." In fact, though the president never defined the term fair(ness), he used it 15 times. Explaining his new hero, Teddy Roosevelt, Obama said: "But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can. He understood the free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest." What's fair competition is somewhat subjective, but let me suggest a few examples of what's clearly unfair.

Say a person wants to become a taxi owner. He has a driver's license, a car, and accident liability insurance. Is it fair that in New York City, he has to first purchase a taxi license (medallion) that as of October sold for $1 million? Taxi licenses in Chicago go for $56,000. In Boston, they are $285,000, and in Philadelphia, they run $75,000. Is that fair competition?

In some cities, to own a taxi one must obtain a certificate of "public convenience and necessity." At a Public Utility Commission hearing, incumbent taxi owners show up with their attorneys to protest that another taxi company is not needed, and the application is denied. I'd like to have Obama — or anyone else — tell us whether that's fair competition.

Conservative economist Robert Higgs' warnings about the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Dependence on Government were already outdated when they were published on Thursday. The updated statistics from Heritage for 2011, published the next day, showed the situation in the United States to be even worse than Higgs warned.

Higgs noted that the so-called “ruling class” (taken from Angelo Codevilla’s book of the same name) is a tiny percentage of the total population in the country, and has in the past only been able to maintain its legitimacy through vote-buying and mainstream media credibility. The fear of the ruling class has always been that dissatisfaction and distrust would result in their expulsion from the seats of power. But Higgs notes that now there are so many Americans dependent upon the government for their very subsistence that resistance to the tyranny of the ruling class is being increasingly neutralized.

The more dependent the citizens become on their government, the less influence they are likely to have in any substantial downsizing of that government:

As January ushers in a new year, San Francisco will become the first U.S. city to instate a minimum wage rate of more than $10 an hour. Climbing from $9.92 to $10.24, the city’s new labor mandate will hike the city’s minimum wage more than $2 above the California minimum wage and nearly $3 more than the rate set by the federal government.

Many San Francisco workers lauded the move, particularly those residents working multiple jobs and being paid the city’s current minimum wage. "It’s a psychological boost," said David Frias, a 34-year-old movie theater usher and security guard for a crowd control firm. "It means that I’ll have more money in my wallet to pay my bills and money to spend in the city to help the economy."

Still, many city residents and community organizations say the new rate is too modest after factoring in rising inflation, cost of living increases, and San Francisco’s persistently stale economy. While Karl Kramer of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition is happy to see that the city is raising the minimum wage, he says an adequate wage for a single, childless adult in San Francisco is $15 per hour, and double that when adding at least one child.
 

A United States of Europe — minus recalcitrant Great Britain — is nearly upon us; thus saith Forbes magazine. “The euro, in its old form, has fallen into crisis and the price European countries have to pay is a large loss of sovereignty,” writes Clem Chambers in the Establishment conservative magazine. Chambers continues:

Nationalists would consider this disastrous. In reality, there are not so many nationalists in Europe these days and many countries, and their populations, consider themselves European and see little problem with further integration.

Chambers is confident that zeal to maintain the eurozone will overwhelm nationalist sentiments. As a result of the current financial crisis, political power in Europe will migrate to Brussels, stripping eurozone members of their remaining economic sovereignty:

What is set to happen is that the European super state will hold the cheque book of euro member countries; or at least be able to snap it shut should any one country wish to run away with its local budget.

Money is power and once ultimate budget power is gone, political power will subsequently be drawn into the federal centre.

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