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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Not Always Easy To See The Real Agendas

Cutting taxes on those whose dreams have already come true does not create good jobs. Growing a healthy economy creates good jobs, and you cannot have a healthy economy in which a vast majority are losing ground or are barely holding on, or are just worrying about next month.

Biologists and naturalists conduct experiments in resource scarcity and competition using yeast, paramecium, flour beetles and other little animals. Behaviors change, relationships change, levels of ferocity change. A series of recently published surveys show that one third or less of Americans trust their fellow citizens in everyday interactions. As social trust deteriorates, so does a willingness to work for a common good. I am hopeful that Americans will handle things better than the flour beetle, but we need to hold it together and keep our perspective.

Most of the glitches in the infamous “Obamacare” web site have been worked out, but the initial $94 million cost estimate will likely hit $400 million by the end of the year. Members of Congress scream and howl, the media reports the figures over and over. There have been demands for resignations, and the public hearings will drone on for the rest of my life. At the exact same moment, the cost overruns on the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, which Congress is literally forcing on the Air Force, Navy and Marines and which is seven years late, hit $233 billion. The F-35 is the first trillion-dollar military project in human history, mostly due to constant redesigns of flawed components, and will now deliver 409 fewer planes than planned.

A Reuters study published at the end of November found that since 1996, the Department of Defense has spent $8.5 trillion in taxpayer dollars that cannot be accounted for due to dysfunctional bookkeeping and the lack of basic auditing systems. This includes $500 billion in unaudited contracts with outside vendors, and over $3 trillion in contracts for goods and services since 2003. Because the DOD can’t track parts and equipment on hand, there are excessive supplies in some places and shortages in others, possibly putting soldiers in the field at risk. It made headlines in other countries, but many readers just learned about it from this column.

On Nov. 1, budget cuts went into effect that lowered the average federal food stamp benefit to just under $1.40 per person per meal. States no longer issue actual stamps. The key food assistance programs issue electronic debit cards. States pay one of three large firms to administer cards in exchange for a monthly fee for each recipient, even though the states could do it themselves. New York’s seven-year SNAP contract with JPMorgan was amended in 2012 and increased to a total of $126.3 million. The card fees are attractive enough that defense contractor Northrup Grumman is now breaking into the field.

Monetizing Americans in distress is a growth market.

If a New York recipient uses the card outside the JPMorgan ATM network, an extra fee is deducted. Bonus points.

Recently, there’s been a new push against nutrition assistance programs on the grounds that recipients can use benefits to buy junk food. It’s for their own good. Kellogg’s, Kraft, Wal-Mart, Coca Cola and others invest huge resources in D.C. and state capitols to block health-oriented improvements. In an 18-month period in 2010-2011, half of Oklahoma’s $1.2 billion in SNAP benefits were spent at Wal-Mart.

People are frustrated. People are uncertain. People are angry. People yell. Look over there, but not over here. In Washington, Albany and Mineola, some get to win either way, as long as real change, reform and progress is kept off the table. Get angry at the right people.

Michael Miller's email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net