Malum en si

Know what this is?

It’s called the football. It accompanies a United States President and the authentication code he carries to operate it, called the biscuit. It’s a mobile command station for the president to be able to launch nuclear strikes when he’s not landlocked. In a briefcase. That’s pretty amazing and nerve-racking stuff, especially since the biscuit has even been lost once or twice. I wonder how this technology is run and managed.

Oh, that’s how. That’s a eight-inch floppy disk, circa 1971.

As reported on CNN, the Pentagon still uses forty+ year old tech to run it’s Nuclear Weapons program. I was pondering why on Earth this would be the case, especially considering that the sixty-billion dollar budget the government incurs to operate this way, is 3 times what it would cost to adopt modern IT infrastructure.

It reminded me of that infamous story that makes the rounds now and then about how the United States Army paid $100 for a hardware store hammer. Why so much waste? Surely no reasonable group of people would throw away so much of their money on such frivolous — — Stop. Que the music and lights, because that’s when it hit me.

Before I get to that particular epiphany, let’s discuss two possibilities that are perhaps obvious, but important nonetheless.

The United States Government in many respects, is an “Old Boy”system. Power centers from both sides of the isle attended the same schools, belong to the same organizations, etc. When you have this sort of critical mass in regards to how things operate, the general consensus is usually, “The old ways are best”. There is a real neophobia in Washington. That’s why Barack’s original presidential campaign stunned the GOP (and DNC contenders) with it’s unprecedented use of technology and social media presence. It can be very difficult to change old habits.

There may also be a financial incentive.

You see, it’s like reverse extortion. If the government spends sixty billion to run a particular program that uses outdated technology, and that department suddenly modernizes, you’ll see an initial surge in employment and spending as the new replaces the old, as it was with the HITECH act of 2009. After the technology stabilizes, then what? Less and less money is needed to maintain systems that are modern and in many aspects automated.

Keeping maintenance-needy systems in place ensures the mandate for big budgets. Old tech assures further spending; problems precipitate more expenditures. The mechanic fixes your car just enough so that it will get you home, but leaves enough broken and shaky to have you calling him the next week for more billable hours.

Which brings me to my revelation. The above ideas involve complexity, personalities and ethics. Is there a simpler explanation for this behavior? Of course there is.

The reason this sort of waste happens with government spending is simply because….it isn’t their money. These are tax dollars, Social Security, money borrowed from the Federal Reserve and certain other countries. Congress debates the importance of balancing the national budget, while their own personal, burgeoning salaries remain untouched. It isn’t their money, so why should they care? As goes the saying, “Send a politician’s kid to war, and we will have fewer wars”. In accordance with basic human psychology, where there is vested interest of the self-serving sort, there is little accountability.

We’re not going to change these things overnight. It took President Obama 8 years to make a dent. Be mindful of these realities when you find yourself custodian over the belongings of others: emotions, finances, hopes and opportunities. Strive to be good and faithful and just, over that which is not your own.

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