I’m in ur drones, watching ur live feedz
December 20, 2009, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Efficiency, War

Cost of a Predator Drone: $4,500,000 million

Cost of “Skygrabber” program, which could up until earlier this year, hack into the Predator drone live feed: $25.95

Seeing the US military’s killer robots rendered useless by Islamist script-kiddies:  Priceless

There is actually a serious point here, all snark aside.  The cost of offensive warfare is sky-rocketing, while at the same time, the cost of defensive warfare is dropping.  For example, the drones mentioned are actually considered a cheap option by the United States, and this is certainly the case when compared to, say, an F-15 (especially if you include the cost of training and looking after the pilot).  Meanwhile, insurgencies that are keeping the USA bogged down in two countries are being fought with Kalashnikovs, RPGs, car-bombs, cell phones and off-the-shelf software and computers.

And what do all these things have in common?  As Nolan’s Joker would say, they’re cheap.  Furthermore, because they are cheap, such groups can raise the money through methods like drug trafficking, instead of relying on vastly more expensive methods to gain the sums needed to support larger armed forces.

At what point does the cost of warfare become more than can possibly be gained from it?  The suggestion is that the United States has already begun to reach this point.  And when a broken, inefficient system goes up against more efficient, faster acting systems…well, it doesn’t really need to be elaborated on, does it?


The “war on Xmas” – radical right meme propagation?
December 19, 2009, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Memes

Seems to be somewhat likely.  According to Time magazine, one of the early proponents of the idea of a “War on Christmas” is Peter Brimelow, the extremely conservative founder of VDARE, a website which has been classed as a hate group for giving white supremacists a platform to speak on anti-immigration issues.

Given that, when the war on Xmas is aired (almost always by media outlets with a decidedly conservative slant – in America, Fox News and in the UK, the Daily Mail and Telegraph newspapers) the blame is usually laid at the feet of secularists, atheists and religious/ethnic minorities, this isn’t actually too surprising. And once you get people to accept the idea that immigrants and people with different cultural backgrounds have pernicious influence over one thing, it’s not hard to build on that and convince them they have that influence over much more (ie; that they are some sort of invading virus, seeking to dismantle and replace what conservatives believe is our currently existing society with something quite different).

Still, it is good to know, since everyone who is repeating this fallacious nonsense via chain emails to me is now being sent this link.  Probably wont get to everyone it needs to, but a little correction can’t hurt.

How to hack the US government
December 13, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Legislative Choke-Point, Social Hacking

Now that I have all the NSA-bots attention, I’d like to say I’m talking about social hacking (or engineering, if you prefer) and not breaking through Pentagon firewalls or other illegal things.  I’m saving posts like that for later.

Like all hacking, this relies on exploiting a complex and not often very well understood rule-set, in order to make the larger processes do something they really shouldn’t.  In this case, it is accomplished by having control over the House and Senate Rules Committees.

Matt Taibbi explains further:

The House Rules Committee is perhaps the free world’s outstanding bureaucratic abomination ─ a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish. The official function of the committee is to decide which bills and amendments will be voted on by Congress and also to schedule the parameters of debate. If Rules votes against your amendment, your amendment dies. If you control the Rules Committee, you control Congress.

The committee has nine majority members and four minority members. But in fact, only one of those thirteen people matters. Unlike on most committees, whose chairmen are usually  chosen on the basis of seniority, the Rules chairman is the appointee of the Speaker of the House.


Shortly after Sanders finishes  his remarks, the Rules Committee members scurry to begin what will be a very long night of work. To most everyone outside those nine majority members, what transpires in the committee the night before a floor vote  is a mystery on the order of the identity of Jack the Ripper or the  nature of human afterlife. Even the Democrats who sit on the committee have only a vague awareness of what goes on. “They can completely rewrite bills,” says McGovern. “Then they take it to the floor an hour later. Nobody knows what’s in those bills.”

One singular example of this came  four years ago, when the Judiciary Committee delivered the first Patriot Act to the Rules Committee for its consideration. Dreier trashed that version of the act, which had been put together by the bipartisan committee, and replaced it with a completely different bill that had been written by John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.

The bill went to the floor a few hours later, where it passed into law. The Rules Committee is supposed to wait out a three-day period before sending the bill to the House, ostensibly in order to give the members a chance to read the bill. The three-day period is only supposed to be waived in case of emergency. However, the Rules Committee of DeLay and Dreier waives the three-day period as a matter of routine. This forces members of Congress to essentially cast blind yes-or-no votes to bills whose contents are likely to be an absolute mystery to them.

There is therefore an element of Christmas morning in each decision of the committee. On the day of a floor vote, you look under the tree (i.e., the Rules Committee Web site) and check to see if your amendment survived. And so, on the morning of July 21st, Sanders’ staff goes online and clicks on a link H.R. 3199 ─ USA PATRIOT AND TERRORISM PREVENTION REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005. Twenty of sixty-three amendments have survived, most of them inconsequential. The Sanders amendment isn’t one of them.
– Matt Taibbi, Smells Like Dead Elephants, pages 26-33

The only problem is, of course, getting the Speaker of the House to approve you to be chairman.  However, when you consider how much competition there is for more lucrative positions (such as the House Committee on Appropriations) where an elected official can really steal, the Rules committee, by contrast has much less to offer, at least to the sort of politician who goes into politics to line their own pocket.  For an ideologue, on the other hand…with a little work, you can forcibly stamp your own vision of what should and shouldn’t be on the United States for years to come, with almost no oversight at all.