What Brendan Eich’s Resignation Tells Us About Tolerance


As Nathaniel has already touched on, a few weeks ago newly-minted Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned from his post amid outrage from gay activists over his contribution to Prop 8 in California six years ago. Those opposing his support for Prop 8 made clear their demands: recant or resign. Eich, presumably because he is a man of conscience, chose the latter.

Now, to be clear, Eich was not forced out under any sort of legal pressure, so anyone claiming Eich’s right to free speech was being suppressed isn’t correct. There’s no reason gay activists can’t express outrage at an opinion they find reprehensible, even to the point of boycotting the company he leads (as misguided as such a tactic may be), just as Eich can express that opinion.

But the activists have still got it wrong, and not just because the same coercive tactics used against them would be met with justifiable indignation, but because the entire premise of their anger is misplaced. Their stated or implied claims are:

  1. Eich’s contribution to the Prop 8 campaign makes him hateful, and a bigot.
  2. Intolerance of intolerance is ethical.

Those claims, by necessity, assume gay activists hold the moral high ground, and therefore can dictate what opinions are or are not acceptable to hold in our society. The problem is that gay activists do not hold any such ground. Modern society’s acceptance of homosexuality is not predicated on any sort of objective morality that flows pure and clean out of the fabric of reality, but rather the whims of the same society that just forty years ago considered homosexuality to be a clinical mental disorder.

The fact is the morality of gay activists is ascendant not because there is some universal law that compels it but because we have arbitrarily decided that’s what we want. Because it’s the popular thing to do. They refuse to acknowledge this because when viewed through that lens it puts the views of the bigots, racists and bullies on equal footing with their own. Instead of being able to arbitrate right and wrong from a position of unassailable moral authority, they’re forced to realize society is, fundamentally, only interested in its own survival, that justice and equal rights are of secondary importance–a luxury, really, and optional when the chips are down.

That’s a hard thing to realize, and even voicing such a notion runs you the risk of being labeled a bigot. And that’s part of the problem. Even asking the question “is homosexuality normal?” is enough to get you fired and treated as a pariah.

And why not? Homosexuals can’t help how they were born, so how can we justify treating them differently? Well, the reality is we treat people differently based upon how they were born all the time. I could be born with a tendency toward attraction to multiple partners, but I’m not allowed to marry more than one of them at a time. Is such a proscription morally defensible?

Maybe that’s too easy. Let’s try a harder one. What about pedophiles? We treat pedophiles differently because of how they were born. In the past, our society found both pedophilia and homosexuality to be immoral, just as we continue to find pedophilia immoral today. What has changed? We must accept that either morality is a malleable, changeable aspect of our society, or that we are uncovering an immutable morality as civilization marches on.

The notion that there is some discoverable, objective morality would seem to imply that nature itself has some vested interest not only in the survival of our society, but in values like equality and human rights, and yet we have no evidence that nature is anything but utterly indifferent to our values and our society. It therefore seems overwhelmingly likely that morality is subject to change based on prevailing notions of “what’s best.” We agree as a society to limit ourselves to behaviors which are not detrimental to our current explicit or implicit goals. The sexual abuse of children runs contrary to those goals, and is thus considered to be immoral. We react with disgust and outrage at the behavior of pedophiles because we are empathetic creatures able to identify with the suffering of others and because we instinctively regard harming innocent humans as damaging to our collective survival. So while a pedophile may not be able to help how he was born, that doesn’t exempt his behavior from the harsh judgment of his fellow men, nor does it render that judgment unjustified.

Is it therefore unjustified to regard homosexuality as immoral? It certainly hasn’t always been, but now we are moving into a time in which a majority of society and the prevailing wind of reason, not to mention science, tells us that homosexual behavior has no harmful effect on its participants nor on society as a whole, and even goes so far as to state that regarding homosexual behavior as immoral is itself harmful, and therefore immoral.

Let’s examine these claims in turn:

1) Homosexual behavior is not harmful to its participants.

I can’t think of any reason this might not be true. In a non-religious context, I can’t see any harm done to two consenting adults doing whatever they want together.

2) Homosexual behavior is not harmful to society.

This is a bit more complicated. Certainly birth rates would decrease (roughly) proportionately to the rate of homosexuality in a given society. Taken to an extreme, there would be a real risk of societal catastrophe if, say, we all woke up one day attracted to our own sex and not the opposite. Are we then prepared to say that homosexuality is only conditionally not harmful to society? Because that would necessarily mean that homosexuality is conditionally harmful to society. What does that tell us about the morality of gay activists? What then do we make of the outrage against those backwards bigots who still consider homosexual behavior to be sinful?

3) Claiming that homosexual behavior is immoral is itself immoral.

At the risk of repeating myself, this again is a way of saying that the morality of one group takes precedence over another. This is certainly true, but not for the reasons that gay activists think. That is, not because any ascendant morality is inherently better for society. “Tolerance” is not a panacea, as evidenced by the fact that we still do not permit plural marriage and we still put pedophiles in prison when they act on their inborn tendencies. The morality of gay activists happens to be largely identical to those they oppose with a few notable exceptions. That doesn’t make it “better,” which leads to the implicit claim:

4) Intolerance of intolerance is ethical.

This is, simply, wrong, for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Intolerance of intolerance is a way of punishing others for rejecting your morality, which, as we’ve clearly established, is fundamentally arbitrary. If you are upset with someone for opposing what you believe to be “right,” then say so, explain yourself, and back your claims. Do not attempt to marginalize your opponents by pretending that blanket censure, shouting down, censoring or oppression of dissenting opinions is an appropriate response to disagreement.

I am deeply disappointed by the behavior of the gay activists who spoke out against Brendan Eich. They are engaging in the very behavior they should be actively fighting. Instead of being driven by the equality, love and fairness that has allowed them to accomplish their goals in the first place, they viciously attack anyone who might not feel the way they do without recognizing in themselves that same hatefulness and spite they fight so hard against in their opponents. I would expect a supposedly “enlightened” society to do better.

Is Donald Sterling Brendan Eich Part 2?


I wrote a post about the Brendan Eich situation and was going to post it this morning but a recent controversy has prompted me to address something else first.

Last week the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was (allegedly) recorded making racist comments to his girlfriend, telling her he prefers she not associate herself or the team with black people in public. The recording, made by his girlfriend (who, by the way, is apparently black and latina), was released to the public (likely by her) and has set off a storm of criticism and outrage. The Clippers team itself engaged in a protest by hiding the Clippers logo on their warmup jerseys and then dumping them midcourt (see photo) before their first round playoff game on Sunday.

This is not the first time Donald Sterling has been known to utter an unpopular sentiment. In the past he has allegedly made comments far worse than what he was caught saying to his girlfriend, comments which I will not duplicate here. Simply put, he’s not a very nice person, and not many in the Clippers organization have nice things to say about him. Now, however, his behavior may cost him his team. The NBA is under pressure to force Sterling to sell the Clippers as his very presence will now surely drive advertisers away and will fuel the refusal of popular figures in and out of the league to support the team. Already current and former players have publicly voiced their displeasure with Sterling. This isn’t something that will just go away.

I read an article over the weekend written in response to this controversy that criticizes those who came to Brendan Eich’s defense when he was basically forced to resign as CEO from Mozilla when his support of Prop 8 several years ago was made public. The article states that anyone defending Eich’s support of Prop 8 but unwilling to defend Sterling’s racism is a hypocrite.

I take exception to this for a couple reasons:

  1. Brendan Eich did not oppose gay people for being gay. He opposed the action of their getting married. This is very different than Sterling, who appears to simply not like black people in general. Conflating the two is misleading and dishonest. There is a difference between someone’s behavior and who they are. There is no evidence that Brendan Eich dislikes gay people. It is unfortunately a common refrain from gay marriage activists that anyone opposed to gay marriage, gay sex or anything else labeled “homosexual” behavior must also necessarily hate gay people as well, which is obviously ridiculous.
  2. Many of those who came to Eich’s defense did not defend or justify his support of Prop 8. They simply defended his right to support Prop 8 so and urged those in disagreement not to harass, threaten or professionally destroy him for it. Surely Donald Sterling is allowed to have his private feelings about black people, even if most people find those feelings abhorrent? Should someone who does not want to associate with people of a particular race in public be barred from owning a business in which the majority of the workforce is made up of that race? Or, in this day and age, are we justified in telling people “you can’t think a certain way and still work here”? Does punishing people for expressing unpopular sentiments solve anything or does it simply sweep the issue under the rug? Certainly Sterling’s ouster will not change his opinion of black people. Is that good enough? He can think whatever he wants as long as we don’t have to know about it and as long as he’s not in charge? Something about that just doesn’t feel right to me.

If I worked for someone who I knew disliked people of my race, I would feel very uncomfortable working for him. At the same time, demanding he resign and shuffling him off for someone else to deal with feels wrong. I want to believe people can change. Ostracizing and punishing them for their personal feelings will only entrench their negative perceptions. Doesn’t it seem like the better approach to show them love and kindness despite their hurtful words? There is a time for protest, for boycott, but we must also recognize that we live in a time of equality and progress and if we want continue along that path the goal should be to uplift those caught behind, not push them further away.

I will have more to say about this within the next few days.

Level 3 Communications Throws Hat in Net Neutrality Ring


I previously posted about Cogent Communications complaining that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T et al are trying to “unfairly” squeeze more money out of Cogent by holding their own customers hostage from the content those customers ask for and have been told they have access to. Up until recently, Cogent was the only major internet backbone carrier piping up publicly, but now Tier 1 network operator Level 3 is speaking out against major-ISP anti-consumer misbehavior in this blog post by Level 3’s General Counsel of Regulatory Policy Michael Mooney. This is a big deal, because it illustrates just how far-reaching and critical this issue is for the future of the internet and everyone who relies on it. Want to get an idea of how big Level 3 is? You could make a drinking game out of it, but do so at your own peril. Go to your nearest command or terminal window and type tracert (if in Windows) or traceroute (Mac OS X, Linux) and then any random website you go to often, like this:

traceroute www.yahoo.com

Then hit enter, and watch. Whenever you see “l3” or “level3” anywhere in the scrolling results list, take a note. That’s your request being routed through Level 3’s sprawling, expansive network. Enter in some more top-level domains. You’ll see it popping up over and over again.

In the blog post, Michael Mooney takes ISPs to task, criticizing them for utilizing their (oft-ill-gotten and oft-misused) last-mile monopolies to strong-arm content providers into paying for the same service the ISPs’ own customers are already supposed to have paid for. He addresses the ISPs’ counter-claims about the “unbearable” costs of increased bandwidth usage by their customers streaming video and downloading large files by pointing out the inconsistency of such complaints next to the public financial records of these same ISPs showing soaring and growing profits year-by-year. However, instead of using these record revenues to upgrade their infrastructure to provide the level of service their customers are already paying for (oh, yeah, and also being charged increasingly larger fees for, and also being increasingly slapped with data caps over), the ISPs simply let their service degrade and insist the content providers to pick up the tab for upgrades. Mooney claims they have so far refused to negotiate fairly or in good faith. Netflix, for one, has already been forced to cave on the issue with Comcast out of fear of losing droves of customers and for no other reason than Comcast’s customers really, really like using Netflix.

This is not capitalism, or anything like it. It’s rent-seeking, pure and simple, and it’s collusion, not only between ISPs agreeing to not compete with each other but also between ISPs and the governments and politicians that grant them the power and status to play chicken with the welfare of an ever-growing sector of our economy.

Double-dipping, The Verizon Way


Ars Technica has an article with responses from two sides, Cogent Communications vs. Verizon, of an increasingly-relevant corporate backroom debate involving multiple players that has already begun to affect the everyday life of a huge swath of internet subscribers in the US and has ties to the growing debate over net neutrality. The argument breaks down as follows. Let’s use the roads analogy I used in my earlier post about net neutrality and stretch it into absurdity:

Imagine that Verizon owns all the roads from you to halfway to the nearest Netflix distribution center, and another company, Cogent, owns all the roads from that point and the rest of the way to the Netflix distribution center. Verizon and Cogent have an implicit arrangement to allow traffic to pass unmolested at the switch point from one road network to the other. You have an explicit contract with Verizon that every month you can receive unlimited shipments from anywhere in the world but at a maximum of twenty per day, and each time you or anyone else wants a shipment they have to dispatch a messenger on a bicycle, creating a small but steady stream of outflowing traffic.

Netflix is sending at least a million shipments a month to everyone in your neighborhood and surroundings and the number is growing. Eventually, the incoming Verizon road starts to become clogged with shipments, many of them Netflix’s big trucks, and people start to miss their shipments from both Netflix and elsewhere and instead of being able to get twenty shipments per day per their contract with Verizon, they can only get ten or fifteen. Meanwhile, Verizon, instead of using money from their existing business to upgrade their roads to handle a higher volume of traffic, simply allows the road to remain gridlocked unless Cogent or Netflix pays them money to finance the upgrades, and the price they are demanding is many times higher than a typical equivalent construction project requires.

This is essentially what is happening right now. In a sense, Verizon is leveraging their stranglehold on huge parts of the US ISP market to hold both customers and content providers hostage from each other, separating customers from the content they have requested and content providers from their subscribers unless someone ponies up to their satisfaction. Their complaints about traffic disparity aren’t necessarily unjustified, but punishing their customers and reneging on their agreements is wrong. What they’re doing is tantamount to extortion, and it only works because there is no recourse for anyone, and they know it. The problem will only get worse so long as Verizon, Comcast, et al face little or no competition in their markets. Traffic will degrade, it will be discriminated against, and we’ll pay more for it.

This is what happens when we let the government bestow superpowers on rich corporations and not take seriously their mandate to regulate anti-consumer behavior.

Playing The Blame Game


There’s been some outrage in the video game community lately about a recent mobile game, Dungeon Keeper, released by EA, a game which, according to said community, embodies the worst and most cynical of what the mobile game industry has to offer. Why the outrage at this particular game? Well…

  1. It’s an EA game. EA was once the pride of the video game industry. Back in the late ’80s to late ’90s, EA released classics year after year like they couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. In true “you either die a hero…” fashion, however, their phenomenal successes led to interest by the world at large and EA became a corporate behemoth more interested in vacuuming up talent wherever it could find it and putting it to work 80 hours a week pumping out half-finished yearly installments of the most lucrative properties than creating the labors of love that characterized their earlier days. Today, EA, together with Activision, represent to many gamers everything that is unsustainable and wrong with the modern video game industry.
  2. It’s a “remake” of a classic title. The original Dungeon Keeper (1997) holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers and was a product of the EA golden age.
  3. It’s a “broken-by-design” free-to-play (F2P) game. These types of games are only “free” in the loosest sense of the word. While there is no charge to download and begin playing the game, your progress in the game is punctuated by hours-long wait times to perform even simple actions, forcing players to wait upwards of 24 hours before an action completes and being allowed to queue up another. The only way to actually play the game continuously is to pay real money for resources which eliminate or reduce the timer mechanic. The exchange rate of this resource is such that to have an experience roughly “comparable” (see #4) to the original Dungeon Keeper game, a player would have to pay tens or even hundreds of dollars.
  4. It is not anything like the original game. Even putting aside the F2P mechanics, very little of the game experience actually resembles the original. If the art assets and the title were changed, it is debatable that anybody would conclude that this new game were even so much as an homage to the first Dungeon Keeper.

Predictably, gamers are upset about the game and its business model. It cheaply cashes in on a classic title while engaging in psychological warfare with players in an attempt to separate them from their money. And what to make of the overwhelmingly positive customer reviews for the game on the App Store? Many are convinced that this means the future generation of players will accept this type of “gameplay” as standard and, as such, it will become increasingly widespread. Gamers are calling EA out, vicious in their criticism of the title and its predatory business model, but is that where the problem is?

I wonder what legitimate justification we have in blaming EA for creating and releasing such a game if people are willing to play it and pay money for it. Obviously, if people weren’t paying for these types of games then there wouldn’t be much reason to continue releasing them. Does EA have any responsibility to adhere to some standard of integrity with regards to the games it releases? In two words: absolutely not. Why should they? The responsibility for the enforcement of “integrity” lays with the customer. That’s the way the it works. It’s a voluntary market.

In my mind, it’s every bit as insidious as EA’s repulsive business practices to imagine companies should cleave to some arbitrary standard of conduct with regard to the type and quality of their products. So long as they are not doing anything illegal, the notion that they’re doing anything objectively wrong or evil is misguided. EA is not your friend, nor should you expect them to be. They’re not on your “side.” They want your money and they’ll happily take it if you’ll give it. The idea of the benevolent business, of companies and individuals laboring for the love and passion of their work with money as simply a byproduct is often symptomatic of a very dangerous and pervasive mindset that seeks to dictate remuneration rather than allow it to emerge a result of free exchange. We can hope for (what we consider) better, yes, but we should not expect it and we should never enforce it.

Companies like EA by and large reflect the tastes of the market they serve, therefore the market shoulders the blame. Dungeon Keeper may be cynical, it may be exploitative, it may even barely qualify as a game at all, but it also represents jobs, and it represents what we, as a game-playing public, have told them we’re prepared to pay for. This is not a defense of the new Dungeon Keeper, of EA or of such so-called “games,” it’s simply an opportunity to take responsibility.

After all, if a seal bathes himself in blood and swims lazily across the nose of a shark, whose fault is it if he gets bitten?

Million Dollar Addiction


Sam Polk, a derivatives trader who earned millions of dollars a year for several years working on Wall Street wrote a piece for the New York Times that I found well worth reading. It largely speaks for itself, but I’d like to mention how frightening it is to see the difference in attitudes between people like Sam Polk’s colleagues and “regular” people. Polk paints a picture of a culture in which the only thing that has any meaning is money, and money, for many of them, is little more than a status marker, like a high score in a video game. They’re addicted, and they’ll do anything to maintain their high.

I’m not one to begrudge anyone their fortune, at least as long as they’ve earned it within the bounds of the law and ethical standards, but it forced me to wonder if my own personal pursuit of some modicum of wealth is or may get in the way of the things that actually make me happy. Am I more interested in simply “having” the money, or do I actually want it for some worthwhile purpose: financial security, putting my future kids through college, giving to charity, learning new things, developing things that make people’s lives better?

Yes, Net Neutrality Is Important


Imagine our roads are owned by a few large private corporations. Next, imagine that they can dictate who gets to use them and how, and they hand out preferential access to certain people and companies to curry favor, or who do them favors, or who pay them money. Your purchases from Amazon still arrive on time but now cost more. Deliveries from your favorite Etsy shop? Same cost, but now they take twice as long to arrive. Sound like a fun time? What about when access to information becomes a life-and-death issue?

That is, essentially, what may happen to internet access in the US after a DC Court of Appeals ruling threw out FCC rules preventing internet service providers from discriminating against traffic on their infrastructure.

I’m not a populist. I’m also not a corporatist. This issue is usually framed as a lack of enough or effective government regulation over the giant, powerful telecom industry. It could also be said that the entire mess could have been avoided if over the past 25 years or so federal and local governments hadn’t habitually handed out special privileges to a select few industry players, giving them inroads and allowing them to entrench themselves, making true competition nearly impossible.

For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that we, the taxpayers, are the ones that paid for much of the internet infrastructure we’re using. Let’s put aside the fact that telecoms promised high availability, high speeds, were given incentives by government in the form of tax breaks and cash and then failed to deliver, but kept the money anyway. Let’s put aside the complaints from Verizon, AT&T, et al that the strain put on “their” infrastructure (that, remember, we paid for) due to the way the modern internet is used is the reason they’re being “forced” to sue for preferential treatment of traffic on their lines.

Let’s put all that aside and focus on the issue at hand: ISPs do not have your interests at heart and they will abuse the lack of net neutrality. It’s in their nature. Getting mad about it is like getting mad at a lion for hunting and killing a gazelle. But that doesn’t mean we should just let it happen. As I see it, there are three solutions given the situation we’re in:

1. Enforceable, unimpeachable net neutrality legislation. Since both the FCC and Congress have much to gain pleasing their corporate interests and risking a bit of unpopularity in the home constituency, it will take a fairly sizeable grassroots movement to overturn that kind of momentum. This is difficult, but possible, given the demographics of internet enthusiasts in the US.

2. More competition. What better way to say “screw you” to Verizon, AT&T or Comcast and their anti-consumerism than switching ISPs? Well, first you need an ISP to switch to. I believe the market-based solution is the strongest, the most unassailable long-term, but may be much harder to effect than getting more rules and laws on the books: Local and federal government need to stop discouraging if not preventing new entrants in the market. They need to stop playing favorites. They need to incentivize new players to enter the market but recoup the outlays when projects fail.

3. Government takes over provision of broadband internet. No, thank you.

Unless the FCC, with its own questionable motives, manages to pull out a Hail Mary victory from this seemingly-sure defeat, this isn’t something we can ignore and expect it to go away. Just like SOPA and PIPA, this matters. Let’s hope it’s not too late before we realize it.

Federal Judge’s Decision Strikes Down Utah Gay Marriage Ban

sameI think most Utahns, for or against, anticipated this would happen at some point. While Judge Shelby’s decision does not at first blush smell of blatant activism, decisions made by “the people” being rendered moot by a imperious federal government is a sore point for many across the nation, especially in a conservative stronghold like Utah.

Expect an appeal, especially since the LDS Church, which staunchly opposes same-sex marriage and shows no signs of relenting on the matter, counts among its members many high-ranking civil servants throughout the state. I would also expect the appeal to fail, or if it succeeds, to be reversed eventually. If a state like Utah can be forced to abide policy with which a majority of its citizens do not agree, it causes me to wonder how far a leap it is to the next steps, such as forcing religions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies (despite same-sex marriage proponents’ protestations that that will never happen). I believe a truly unbiased observer would see it as likewise inevitable.

The text of the decision.

The Pope Preaches Fairness, Is A Radical

117049-pope-francisPope Francis’ recent “apostolic exhortation” criticizes certain aspects of modern society, championing equality and policies that guarantee opportunity and basic welfare.

Naturally, the Pope’s words are being and will be co-opted by the left as a long-awaited attack against conservative ideals and a tacit approval of redistributive policies, not excluding socialist positions.

While I can’t, myself, read the Pope’s document (my guess is because it hasn’t been translated to English), reading what’s being said in the news about it leads me to believe Pope Francis is not sanctioning socialism or anything like it, but rather calling for society to back away from “idolatry” in the form of obsession with wealth and status, which isn’t what I would consider to be an earth-shattering pronouncement. He asks for people to make giving to those less fortunate than themselves a priority, and for politicians to ensure everyone in their society has access to what most people around the world would consider to be basic necessities (education, employment and health care).

Perhaps the most potentially divisive comment made in the exhortation is, ironically, the Pope’s call for closing the inequality gap. I’m not sure what solutions he offers for fixing that problem, but it’s perhaps what the Pope points to as a cause for the gap’s existence that is the most interesting:

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” he wrote.

I don’t think many people are seriously arguing for absolutely unregulated markets, so I’m not sure what this statement is meant to accomplish, nor why it is (at least, going from the comments sections on the various outlets reporting this) being interpreted by leftists as a socialist call-to-arms and a radical departure from everyday Christian culture which, with its emphasis on personal liberty, responsibility and autonomy, is in their minds a spiteful dismissal of or, at best, indifference to the plight of the disenfranchised.

While I applaud Pope Francis’ for attempting to place emphasis on helping the less fortunate and shedding the pursuit of wealth at the expense of others, I’m more interested in learning what solutions he proposes to addressing what are, in fact, human failings, not unique to any corner of any political spectrum.


Pentagon Misplaces Billions Of Americans’ Dollars Anually, Won’t Be Held Accountable

saupload_money_fireReuters is reporting that, in an accounting fiasco of truly comical proportion, the Pentagon has lost billions of dollars in taxpayer money with no record of where or how the money disappeared. The grand injustice is that had such a debacle occurred in a private corporation it would result in prison sentences. The difference being, of course, that in the case of a corporation the money being flushed into the nether ostensibly belongs to the government, whereas in this case, no big deal, the money belongs to the American people.

When there is a question about why a large segment of the population wants a smaller government, it’s stories like this that support their arguments. Is this an inevitable result of big government, or is this a systemic issue of the particular type of government currently occupying Washington? Where is the responsibility? Where is the accountability?

The Department of Defense accounts for more than half of yearly government spending, and they can’t balance their books without pulling numbers from thin air. Is it any wonder so many are objecting to concentrating further enormous financial outlays into the hands of that same government body in the form of health care?

Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

The numbers are easy to write down but they’re almost beyond my comprehension. Aside from the obvious question about how much defense spending is too much, how much of that 8.5 trillion dollars has been lost? How much of it came out of your pocket, or your friends’ or your parents’, and how much of it will never be recovered?

Congress in 2009 passed a law requiring that the Defense Department be audit-ready by 2017. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2011 tightened the screws when ordered that the department make a key part of its books audit-ready in 2014.

Reuters has found that the Pentagon probably won’t meet its deadlines. The main reason is rooted in the Pentagon’s continuing reliance on a tangle of thousands of disparate, obsolete, largely incompatible accounting and business-management systems. Many of these systems were built in the 1970s and use outmoded computer languages such as COBOL on old mainframes. They use antiquated file systems that make it difficult or impossible to search for data. Much of their data is corrupted and erroneous.

Why does this happen? Why is it allowed to happen? The only answer that makes any sense to me is because there’s no impetus for change because there is no penalty for screwing up. You lose a few million bucks in a year in your department to “accounting errors” and the like at any company in the country and you’ll be on the street in an instant. In the government, this kind of failure is allowed to go on for years without much more than empty threats from largely-disinterested politicians on Capitol Hill. Deadlines and restrictions are frequently imposed and inevitably ignored, both out of conflicting goals of necessity, incompetence, and good old fashioned corruption.

The Defense Department’s arguments in their own defense ring hollow, with excuses that attempt to mask the amount of money lost by pointing to purposely-excessive number fudging that function as IOUs and are, usually, accounted for in time. This does nothing to explain why such number fudging should be necessary in the first place, nor is there convincing proof that this is true since much of the money is still unaccounted for after years and years with no prospects of recovery.

In the end, we are the victims, working every day to put thousands of dollars each year into a nightmare machine from which we will never see any return.