USDA Is Playing Secret Santa

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While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sounded a lot like Scrooge this year by threatening to cut nutrition assistance for low income women and children, it was behaving like a secret Santa to special interests spreading good cheer and taxpayer dollars through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Here are more than a few other examples how the program spent $50 million to ring in the holidays early in 2013.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. And the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association is one of the six projects involving Christmas trees that was funded. These included shearing, marketing and promoting Christmas trees. The program also supported at least five ornamental plant initiatives, including a project to “to increase consumers’ awareness and preference for Florida-grown ornamental plants by investigating determinants of consumer purchasing behavior such as personal health and wellness benefits and environmental and economic benefits and by developing contextually relevant marketing strategies to increase plant sales” and another to support seminars on ornamental plants at the South Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association conference.

Visions of Sugar plums Dancing in Their Heads. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program had a sweet tooth for sugar producers this year and gave the plum growers reason to dance. The California Dried Plum Board received taxpayer dollars “to enhance the market for” prunes in Japan and South Korea. Funding was provided for “developing and implementing a comprehensive social media marketing campaign” for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, “organizing and promoting a Maple Weekend including a recipe contest, tours of sugarhouses, restaurant participation, and promotional activities” with the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, and partnering with the Michigan Maple Syrup Association “to increase the profitability of Michigan maple syrup producers by developing planting stock for new sugar bushes with a higher sap sugar”.

Global Santa Tracker. Just like Santa with his bag full of toys, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program traveled around the world this year spreading joy, with more than ten grants paying for international junkets. These included conducting the “USA Pear Road Show” in China, sending representatives from the Oklahoma Pecan Growers Association to international tradeshows, bringing wine connoisseurs from China to Washington state, supporting the participation of Puerto Rican coffee producers in the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe trade shows, hosting seminars on “cooking with pistachios and prunes” in Japan and South Korea, putting on “meetings, product showcases, trade tastings, and educational seminars” for Oregon producers in Asia, facilitating a bean grower field day in Mexico, supporting attendance at domestic and international trade shows for Michigan groups and companies, and assisting with a “trade development mission” to Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Holiday Wine and Spirits. Santa may enjoy a glass of milk with cookies to get him through a busy evening of delivering holiday gifts and cheer, but the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program showed a preference for wine. The program funded 35 wine related projects this year. These included creating two smart phone apps to help “navigate to the next winery,” promoting wine trails and sales, improving wine tasting room satisfaction, and developing a West Virginia wine trail publication, and hosting a Wine Pavilion at the South Dakota State Fair.

Making a List and Checking It Twice. When making a list of duplicative government programs, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is sure to be on it at least twice since it mirrors in many ways at least two other USDA programs, the Market Access Program and Value Added Producer Grants. While not all of the projects funded by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program were wasteful, nearly all were eligible for funding from other federal programs making the program unnecessary. The largest proportion of grants was provided for marketing and promotion, such as social media for strawberries and a YouTube video about the proper handling of watermelons.

The Partridge in a Pear Tree: The “USA Pear Road Show,” promoting pears as far away as China, was one of the two pear related projects funded this year by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. While a flight to China was included, no partridge was actually involved in either project.

Information found for this “Your Tax Dollars @ Work” post was done by using a Google search. Information compiled from multiple public websites & media outlets.

Your Tax Dollars Are Hard At Work

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I have been holding this discussion on the back burning for a few months now, but it is time the see how fucked up the spending of the United States Government actually is and how it would appear there is no stopping the irrational spending anytime in the near future. I’m fairly confident when I say I do not think I will see reductions in idiotic spending in my lifetime. For decades, people have heard tales of the crazy government-funded scientific research that our tax dollars get spent on. Seemingly insane studies are often conducted in these research situations and, to the naked eye, they seem like useless wastes of money. But just how useless are these crazy research situations? While a study may look silly or useless on the surface, it’s always a good idea to take a further look at the impacts of the study and its results. In our ever-changing social, physical and technological world, there is so much left to explore that it might just take a few seemingly unorthodox measures to get us to a place of understanding. Listed below (in red) are four (4) of (out of 100,000+) my personal favorites for idiotic government funded research paid for by my tax dollars. Information was grabbed from a few lists that show only partial lists with an average assumed cost of $2,000,000,000,000 and were continuously funded during the recent government shutdown.

  • How long can a shrimp run on a treadmill?
    Really? Do we need to spend $3 million just to watch shrimps run on a treadmill? Actually, yes, if we want to begin to understand the effects of bacteria on mobility, according to National Science Foundation spokeswoman Maria Zacharias. The National Science Foundation’s page on the study explains that these tests help us better understand the effects of pollution and a crustacean’s natural immune defense system have on the survival of the species. Since the survival of the species can not only affect the environment but also the fishing and seafood industry, the study of a shrimp’s ability to run away from predators and survive when its health is compromised by human influence through pollution, is pretty important.
  • Does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?
    FarmVille is a simulation game on Facebook that allows users to create a virtual farm, grow and harvest crops, trade and exchange seeds with other farmers. At first glance it seems ludicrous that $315,000 would be spent on attempting to study the real social aspects of an online game, but is it really? With more and more time being spent online with friends, the impact of these activities on our health, happiness and attitudes is an important concept to explore. This study happened to show that relationships that would otherwise have been “left stale” were actually built up through the game. Imagine how this information can transform the lives of people with physical and mental disabilities preventing them from taking part in real-life interaction.
  • How do you ride a bike?
    According to the Senator’s report, $300,000 was spent in 2009 helping scientists study how humans ride bicycles. Since the velocipede has been around in many forms for well over 100 years, you might think this a completely useless study. But, how often has the design of the bicycle changed over the course of that 150 or so years? The NSF report on the study notes that spending the time to study how humans ride and handle bicycles will give designers insight into ways they may improve bicycle design. This could result in bicycles that are more comfortable, encouraging increased usage, and more accessible, allowing a wider variety of individuals (including those with certain physical disabilities) the ability to utilize this healthier form of transportation. The future impact this could have on life spans, health and healthcare costs as more and more people are able to ride and get the benefits of exercise from improved bicycle engineering, can have a powerful affect on many industries and socio-economic classes.
  • Can Twitter predict the stock market?
    Twitter, an online social networking and micro blogging site allowing users to converse in 140 character blocks, has almost become a household name. Its trending topics are discussed on CNN and famous actors like Ashton Kutcher have been known to use the site to reach out to fans and spread the word about upcoming projects and events. Recently, the air maneuvers that were part of the attack which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden were narrated live on the Twitter account of an individual who had no idea what he was witnessing. Since market movement is all about public perception of economic and news events, it makes sense then that the tweets of this vast network of relatively connected individuals might give some insight into market movement. The NSF spent $25,000 to find that in fact, “measuring the collective public mood by analyzing millions of tweets can predict the rise and fall of the stock market up to a week in advance with up to 90% accuracy.” It’s hard to argue the value in that statement.

But the money isn’t just thrown at stupid research, they spread your wealth everywhere as if it were fertilizer to promote and stimulate growth in areas which are otherwise meant to remain barren. If you want to get paid for doing something stupid, just turn to the U.S. government.  The U.S. government is paying researchers to play video games, it is paying researchers to study the effects of cocaine on Japanese quail and it has spent millions of dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly.  The amount of money that the government wastes is absolutely horrifying.  Do you remember all of that political wrangling over the debt ceiling deal?  Do you remember how our politicians told us that there were cutting spending as much as they possibly could?  Well, it was all a giant lie.  As you will see below, the U.S. government is spending money on some of the most stupid things imaginable.  What makes all of this even worse is that we are going into enormous amounts of debt in order to pay for all of this.  We are borrowing billions of dollars a day in order to pay for stupid stuff that no government on earth should ever be paying for.  Trust me, you are going to find it hard to believe some of the stuff in this list.  It is almost inconceivable what our politicians are doing with our tax dollars. This list isn’t in a particular order of importance, it is, however, a cross-section of how the U.S. Government pisses my money facing into the wind. Follow the imbedded links to the entire event of spending our money.

  1. The U.S. government is spent $750,000 on a new soccer field for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
  2.  The Obama administration plans to spend between 16 and 20 million dollars helping students from Indonesia get master’s degrees.
  3.  If you can believe it, the U.S. government has spent $175,587 “to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior”.
  4.  The U.S. government spent $200,000 on “a tattoo removal program” in Mission Hills, California.
  5.  The federal government has shelled out $3 million to researchers at the University of California at Irvine to fund their research on video games such as World of Warcraft.  Wouldn’t we all love to have a “research job” like that?
  6. Fannie Mae is about to ask the federal government for another $4.6 billion bailout, and it will almost certainly get it.
  7. The U.S. Department of Agriculture once gave researchers at the University of New Hampshire $700,000 to study methane gas emissions from dairy cows.
  8. According to USA Today, 13 different government agencies “fund 209 different science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs — and 173 of those programs overlap with at least one other program.”
  9. A total of $615,000 was given to the University of California at Santa Cruz to digitize photos, T-shirts and concert tickets belonging to the Grateful Dead.
  10. China lends us more money than any other foreign nation, but that didn’t stop our government from spending 17.8 million dollars on social and environmental programs for China.
  11. The U.S. government once spent 2.6 million dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly.
  12. One professor at Stanford University was given $239,100 to study how Americans use the Internet to find love.
  13. The U.S. Postal Service spent $13,500 on a single dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
  14. The National Science Foundation once spent $216,000 to study whether or not politicians “gain or lose support by taking ambiguous positions”.
  15. A total of $1.8 million was spent on a “museum of neon signs” in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  16. The federal government spends 25 billion dollars a year maintaining federal buildings that are either unused or totally vacant.
  17. U.S. farmers are given a total of $2 billion each year for not farming their land.
  18. The U.S. government handed one Tennessee library $5,000 for the purpose of hosting a series of video game parties.
  19. One professor at Dartmouth University was given $137,530 to create a “recession-themed” video game entitled “Layoff”.
  20. According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. military spent “$998,798 shipping two 19-cent washers from South Carolina to Texas and $293,451 sending an 89-cent washer from South Carolina to Florida”.
  21. The U.S. Department of Agriculture once shelled out $30,000 to a group of farmers to develop a tourist-friendly database of farms that host guests for overnight “haycations”.
  22. The National Institutes of Health paid researchers $400,000 to find out why gay men in Argentina engage in risky sexual behavior when they are drunk.
  23. The National Institutes of Health also once spent $442,340 to study the behavior of male prostitutes in Vietnam.
  24. The National Institutes of Health loves to spend our tax money on really bizarre things.  The NIH once spent $800,000 in “stimulus funds” to study the impact of a “genital-washing program” on men in South Africa.
  25. The U.S. government spent $100,000 on a “Celebrity Chef Fruit Promotion Road Show in Indonesia”.

Any politician, government employee, or any other ass-hat that claims that there is not a lot of irrisponsible spending that can be cut out of the federal budget is lying to you. But this shouldn’t alarm the American public since we already know that the U.S. Government thinks the people of the United States of America or too stupid to see through all the deceit. The U.S. Government has accumulated the biggest debt in the history of the world and they are adding to it at a rate of about 150 million dollars an hour. Our politicians strut around as if they are the smartest and wisest leaders in the history of the world, but the truth is that someday people will look back in horror at the decline of our once great society. The federal government needs to stop spending so much money on stupid things and needs to stop pushing our national debt to nightmarish new levels. Unfortunately, the corruption in Washington D.C. is so deep and so pervasive that it is going to be almost impossible to turn it around.

Need more to digest? In 2012 a top 10 list of ways the U.S. Government wastes money, here is a regurgitation of that insightful list of waste.

  • 1. There’s an app for that 
    So many wasteful programs, I hardly know where to begin! How about with $100,000 in prizes offered by the Department of Energy to develop an energy app that would help users track their energy usage in their home. It’s a novel idea as our energy resources are finite and the DOE has pushed both consumers and businesses to utilize the available green energy subsidies available to them. However, there’s just one slight problem with the DOE contest: Apps that do this already exist — at least five of them to be exact. Perhaps someone should invest in an app that tracks apps for the DOE?
  • 2. Alms for the rich 
    Just because you made $66 billion in net revenue doesn’t mean you won’t take a handout when one is offered… right PepsiCo.  (NYSE: PEP  ) ? According to Coburn’s report, Pepsi and Theo Muller Group are teaming up to open a yogurt manufacturing facility at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in New York. Unable to use the supplied municipal water in the yogurt-making process, or the $4.2 billion in cash on its balance sheet, Pepsi gladly accepted slightly more than $1.3 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce to build a new aquifer-direct water supply system, a new road leading to the plant, and to improve the parks’ wastewater capacity.
  • 3. RoboSquirrel 
    Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of California Davis spent a portion of a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to construct a robot squirrel to answer the question of why rattlesnakes rarely attack squirrels that wag their tails. Using a taxidermied squirrel that is housed with other squirrels so as to smell realistic, and coupled with heating wires in its tail and body, researches marched RoboSquirrel into the lion’s den, or should I say snakes’ garden, and determined that a heated and wagging tail does indeed play into their defense mechanism. According to researchers, RoboSquirrel 2.0 and RoboKangaroo are in the works. As for me, I can’t wait for RobotChicken!
  • 4. From arts and crafts to World of Warcraft 
    For those of you that thought your grandparents spent the entire day quilting or quietly reading, think again. A research team in North Carolina used $1.2 million from a National Science Foundation grant to study 39 individuals, aged 60 to 77, to see how their cognitive function responded after playing Activision Blizzard‘s  (Nasdaq: ATVI  World of Warcraft for two hours every day for two straight weeks. The results showed no improvement for those who tested with high levels of cognitive function prior to the test, however some improvement was noted for those who tested with lower cognitive function. I guess we can tell Eli Lilly  (NYSE: LLY  )  to move over as we no longer will be needing solanezumab or any of its other Alzheimer’s treatments for further testing as long as we have World of Warcraft.
  • 5. Red planet pâté  
    Don’t let the small fact that NASA has absolutely no manned fleet at the moment stop you from thinking that it isn’t actively spending money on potentially fruitless programs. Take for instance the nearly $1 million spent annually on developing a so-called “Mars menu.” In order to stave off food monotony, researchers spend roughly $1 million each year to have test subjects simulate space conditions and rate the food being tested based on taste, their overall health, and the mood it puts them in. The only problem is that the first manned mission to Mars is likely two decades away at the earliest.
  • 6. Because I’m the wiz! 
    Michigan State Police, in an effort to deter drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel of a car, apportioned $10,000 in federal funds to purchase 400 talking urinal cakes from a Maryland-based company called Wizmark. The urinal cakes, when activated by a motion sensor, would encourage users at local bars to consider getting a cab if intoxicated and, of course, remind them to wash their hands! As Sen. Coburn’s report points out, for around $100 on Amazon.com  (Nasdaq: AMZN  )  Michigan State Police could have acquired breathalyzers that they could have instead passed out to local bar owners instead of the urinal cakes. When will people learn that everything is cheaper on Amazon?
  • 7. Shoot first and ask questions later 
    The Missile Defense Agency really, really likes to build things. According to Waste Book, the MDA has not once, but twice, begun the build-out of interceptor missiles without first finishing the research and testing that should have been completed prior to their construction. Not surprisingly, delays, failures, and system upgrades were needed to both generations of missiles, which have cost taxpayers at least $1 billion and caused costs on the project to soar fourfold.
  • 8. Miniature golf yields a maximum confidence boost 
    Not to be outdone by RoboSquirrel, researchers at Purdue University in Indiana used part of a $350,000 National Science Foundation grant to examine the benefit golfers might gain if they used their imagination better. Researchers placed 36 participants in front of two different-sized golf holes and used optical illusions to make them appear bigger or smaller than they actually were. The findings showed that those who putted toward the smaller hole but perceived it to be bigger were more successful than those who perceived it to be smaller than its actual size.
  • 9. Ship mates? 
    It’s a great thing that our Navy is manned by some fantastic men and women overseas, because its leaders in Washington aren’t making it easy for future generations. In late 2010, the U.S. Navy split what could amount to $37 billion in contracts to build 55 new littoral (near-shore) combat ships between two companies, Lockheed Martin  (NYSE: LMT  )  and Austal USA. While the thinking here is that two companies could build these ships twice as fast, they somehow failed to grasp that the defense systems, design, and software used on each ship would be different; meaning that crewmembers can’t simply be transferred from one ship to another without being retrained. This “boo-boo” is slated to cost taxpayers a minimum of $148 million.
  • 10. What’s the buzz about? 
    Let’s end on a strong note, like a $939,771 experiment funded by the National Institutes of Health in Michigan and Texas that tested fruit flies to discover that male fruit flies are more attracted to younger female fruit flies than older ones. According to researchers, a hormone that female fruit flies produce wanes over time, which makes male fruit flies less attracted to them despite researchers’ countless efforts to test this theory even in the dark. The scary news is that this testing may soon be expanded beyond just fruit flies.

So, there y’all go. And, I only scratched the surface here. Makes me want to look into other public information for other countries in the world. I wonder where the United States ranks in wasting taxpayer money. It’s easy to find defense budget spending but I am wondering if there is a comparative list globally on frivelless spending. For fun, visit U,S, Debt Clock to see how out of control the pending is.

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When A United States Marine Dies

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Growing up I always was fascinated with the stories my uncle would tell all of us kids. He liked to talk about his time in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), his friends he made, the friends he lost, the places he visited, and his experiences. But, he wasn’t always a marine. Before he was a Marine he was part of a family which consisted of eight sons and eight daughters. He was the youngest boy, born 06 October 1932 in Mandan North Dakota. Coming from a family of Marines he knew early on he wanted to be a Marine and continue the legacy. He enlisted in the USMC on 08 October 1950 and was quickly carted off to fight in the Korean War where he completed multiple tours. In July 1953 with the end of the Korean war in sight he was cycled back to the United States he found himself stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Later in the year, 15 October 1953 he married his high school sweetheart and began his own family. Over the years they had nine children, five boys and four girls. In 1965 he was part of Rolling Thunder, the initial wave of soldiers being sent to Vietnam. He would do three tours in Vietnam, his last one in 1970 falling short since he was wounded in action. He returned home in the summer of 1970 and retired later in the year with 20 years of active service with the United States Marine Corps. At this time, my uncle, a retired USMC vet, decided to open a hardware/feed store where he grew up outside of Mandan. He would run the hardware shop for thirty years and finally decided that it was time to let his children carry on with it. The hardware store remains open today, some 42 years later.

In early June 2013 my uncle was diagnosed with a cancer I won’t try to pronounce or spell. by the time it was diagnosed it was spread to almost 60% of his body. He went into intense therapy to try and attempt to eradicate the cancer but it only put a little dent and then decided to continue to spread aggressively. On 09 October 2013 he was re-admitted to the hospital die to complications with his liver and kidneys which later in the week completely shut down. My mother, his last remaining sibling rushed to North Dakota to be by his side as everyone was fearing this would be his final trip to the hospital. He had recently, the week before, celebrated his 81st birthday a frail, sick, shell of the man he once was. Knowing he was going to die very soon he demanded to be let out of the hospital because he did not want to spend his 60th wedding anniversary in a hospital bed. On the morning of 15 October 2013 he was released into the care of his wife. Upon request, he was helped to get dressed in his finest Sunday suit for dinner in their one room apartment that evening, celebrating his wedding anniversary with the love of his life. In the wee hours of Wednesday, 16 October 2013 my uncle passed away.

His funeral will be this coming Monday, 21 October 2013. I was told that once a Marine, you are always a Marine, and you will die a Marine. His funeral will be a full on USMC service and burial. Many of his fellow Marines he served with over the years will attend to pay their respects as well as family and friends. When I spoke to my aunt this morning and my mother last night I was told that the one thing she is not looking forward to is being present the United States flag which will have been draped on the casket. She thinks the reality of his death will come to pass at that moment. She was very emotional. My mother has requested me to make my aunt a shadow box enclosure to house the flag and a variety of his Marine memorabilia she will be returning home with. As I wiped the tears from my eyes, as I am having to do now, I accepted the task. As I say farewell to my uncle Steven I am reminded what a remarkable son he was to his parents, how he cherished the very ground he wife walked upon, he was a great brother, and how he is a wonderful father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He was many things to many people, he was a man who was the picture of honor and reliability, luckily I knew him my entire life as uncle Steven.