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Comment: Re:Misleading headline (Score 1) 156

by IamTheRealMike (#49762811) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

Actually, I think this move has got nothing do with the UK specifically. It's to do with the EU VAT changes that make Luxembourg no longer advantageous to sell from. Those changes came at grievous cost to small businesses but the EU doesn't seem to care.

Anyway. This whole thing is bad news. The UK is currently trying to throw the idea of tax law in the bin by passing stuff like the "General Anti Avoidance Rule", which literally says anything the government doesn't like is illegal (retroactively), i.e. it's not a law at all, but rather a return to the time of kings. The "diverted profits tax" amounts to the same thing - if the government sees something it wants, it'll take it, and there's nothing resembling normal legal processes to stop them e.g. no requirement to specify exactly what they will take and when.

In effect the UK is enacting an equivalent of America's civil asset forfeiture schemes, but for business rather than individuals, and with the justification of balancing budgets rather than the war on drugs. But they amount to the same thing - the law says they can seize money whenever they like, without needing any meaningful justification. And if you don't like it you can appeal to the same people who took the money in the first place.

It took decades of civil asset forfeiture abuse before it became bad enough to trigger real investigations/reforms in America, and the damage inflicted on civil society has been huge. When the laws were passed in the 1980's it's safe to say that the authors didn't really think through what would happen over the long term, even though the outcome was rather predictable.

I think what the Tories are doing will be the same - if these new taxes aren't struck down by the courts then in the long run they will inflict lasting and serious damage. It'll be hard to see at first because the new powers will only be used against very high profile and controversial cases, and then as governments constantly find they're out of cash, they'll go on tax raids ever more frequently with ever more dubious justifications as to why it's OK. And the impact will be that some businesses leave, others simply don't establish bases in the UK at all, and some businesses that would have been good are just never created in the first place.

Comment: Re:just what we all love (Score 1) 156

by IamTheRealMike (#49762787) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

But if you think about it, at the moment transnational businesses have an unfair tax advantage over national ones

Yes, they do. It's called free trade and is generally seen as very desirable, as it reduces paperwork and leads to countries competing to be better places to do business than their neighbours. That's why countries are always trying to sign free trade deals with each other - freer trade means more trade, and in the long run that leads to people being better off.

The problem the UK has is entirely and completely that it has become uncompetitive as a place to do business within in the EU. It's being outcompeted by places like Ireland and Luxembourg - hardly third world backwaters. The UK could regain all those businesses that set up shop in other countries and reap the benefits of the jobs and the income taxes those jobs create, but is unwilling to do so. The Irish people, in contrast, clearly signalled even during the depths of their (bank induced) economic crisis that low corporation taxes were popular and not to be meddled with. They're committed to being one of the best places to set up shop in the EU.

So where do things go from here? Amazon is moving and is now establishing local subsidiaries in places like the UK because the EU has rolled back key parts of the single market via the online VAT changes. If you're incredibly short sighted this might look superficially like a win, because it's eliminated the competitive advantages some EU member states had. If you look a bit closer you discover that to get Luxembourg's assent to this required effectively paying them for the lost tax income over a period of many years, so there's no net savings for a long time, it's pure smoke and mirrors. Worst of all, whilst Amazon can afford the miniature army of lawyers and accountants needed to handle the VAT fiasco, smaller companies generally can't. That was the whole point of the EU in the first place - to eliminate that sort of red tape. So everyone in Europe will suffer in the coming years from lack of services that would otherwise have existed, but don't, because the companies that could have provided them decided not to enter your local market due to compliance costs.

The most insidious effect of all this crap is that it will gravely worsen the problem that the EU tech industry is far behind Silicon Valley. Politicians love to bitch and moan about how dominated Europe is by American internet companies. One big reason is that if you start a company in America you immediately have access to a huge and linguistically unified single market. You can base yourself in California or Seattle and sell to the whole of the USA. Fixing the language issue is hard, but lots of people speak good English these days so it's going away of its own accord. Fixing the single market should have been a lot easier ..... and they were making progress, except that the moment some politicians felt they were missing out on tax revenue they rolled it all back. Perversely it's now easier for a European company to sell things online to the USA than it is to sell online to Europe!

Comment: Re:just what we all love (Score 4, Insightful) 156

by IamTheRealMike (#49762749) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

Uhhhh - yes, there is something immoral about tax avoidance. Virtually all of the schemes used to avoid taxes were lobbied for by corporations


The "loophole" that Amazon has been using is nothing more than the EU single market, in all its glory, exactly as it was intended to be used. The single market was created specifically so companies could set up a headquarters in the EU once, and then sell to the entire trade region without having to register or pay taxes in every single country. This wasn't some clever loophole or corporate scheme, it was constructed, very deliberately and specifically, by politicians that wanted to bring Europe together to avoid another re-run of the World Wars.

When the EU and its predecessors were being set up, governments were all super keen to establish this sort of single market because they saw it as a way to allow their own home-grown champion companies to expand, by selling to people elsewhere on the continent. Paying tax in a single country is fundamental to having a single market, otherwise the paperwork involved with understanding and filling out dozens of tax returns in langauges you don't speak would just be overwhelming. At the time, presumably those politicians didn't care that this meant one day there would be non home-grown companies selling to their people - creating big new companies takes decades and sure enough this "scandal" has only appeared long after the EU was set up and a new generation of companies started moving in.

Regardless, the idea that these companies are grubby scheming tax evaders is pure, unadulterated propaganda. They're doing exactly what they were intended to do - set up a single HQ and sell to everyone from it. The idea that what was once desirable is now immoral is being pushed by the UK media and government to try and distract people from the core fact that there are going to be way, way more cuts and they will be way deeper than anything that's happened up until now. That's not Amazon's fault - the amounts involved are trivial. The fault rests solely on the British people and their leaders.

Comment: Re:Whats the point of FBI pretending to care? (Score 1) 241

by IamTheRealMike (#49647649) Attached to: James Comey: the Man Who Wants To Outlaw Encryption

Anything protected directly by user entry into a smart phone is bound to have no usable entropy by itself anyway.

Modern phones don't actually turn the PIN or pattern directly into an encryption key. Older phones do (and by "older" in the case of Android I mean, "actually quite recent but not latest gen"), but modern phones feed the PIN to a dedicated secure chip that only divulges the actual secret key when the PIN matches, along with keeping track of attempts etc. To break it you need to break the secure chip, which means either finding an exploit, or grabbing your local scanning electron microscope and beating the chips tamper resistance measures (wire mesh etc).

Comment: Re: Uber is the perfect example of free-market fai (Score 1) 132

They already got a large commercial insurance policy for their drivers. Insurance companies care about money and risk, they aren't denying insurance for the period when the driver is alone but with the app switched on because of some specific high minded ideal, it's a commercial decision.

Comment: Re: Uber is the perfect example of free-market fai (Score 2) 132

Yes, but that's a risk that the driver takes not the Uber customer. And coverage when the app is on but not being used is a relatively minor detail of insurance - it will get worked out in one way or another.

Uber isn't even cheaper than a regular taxi in many places. It can be more expensive. When I was last in SF there was never a time without surge pricing. Seems it doesn't hurt them though. Lots of people seem to prefer the Uber experience regardless of price.

Comment: Re:Hate for Uber (Score 3, Interesting) 132

Here we have an app that is putting the entire taxi industry out of work, while the apps creators become billionaires

As opposed to the owners of New York taxi medallions, who do no work at all whilst still getting rich?

Disruptive capitalism at its finest. Sure uber is cheaper for the consumer, but is it better for society? The money is feeding fewer people, and making a tiny number of silicon valley elite uber-rich.

Eh? Uber, at most, replaces the taxi cab dispatchers at the other end of the phone line. The cars still need drivers. If anything they're creating more jobs by making it easier to go everywhere by cab, so increasing the demand for the labour intensive service of driving.

Now when Uber start to phase out drivers entirely in favour of robots, then you'll have a point. But it'll be another round of the same debate that's been rolling for centuries.

As a Canadian, my taxi money isn't even staying in the country! Do taxis really need to be colonialist?

What, you only get driven by immigrants who cross the border each morning? I think you'll find plenty of the money goes to the driver and some gets kept by Uber. Well, why not use the Canadian competitor to Uber then? It's not like they have any kind of cutting edge technological advantage. It's just a mobile app and some databases.

Comment: Re:U.S. government is EXTREMELY CORRUPT. (Score 1) 102

by IamTheRealMike (#49637713) Attached to: FBI Releases Its Files On DEF CON: Not Amused By Spot-the-Fed

Uh... what other governments in supposedly non-corrupt jurisdictions respond to "Freedom Of Information Act" requests with ... actual information?

Eh? Perhaps I'm mis-reading your sentence, but FOIAs are quite commonplace throughout the developed world. And yes they often return useful information.

Try getting information on e.g. "Pussy Riot" out of the Putin government.

Try doing a FOIA for info on Anwar al-Awlaki, notorious freedom of speech abuser up until the point he got drone striked. See how far you get.

Comment: Re:Maybe C developers are more honest (Score 2) 264

by IamTheRealMike (#49637687) Attached to: C Code On GitHub Has the Most "Ugly Hacks"

Haha, neat .... but ....

Java developers seem to have the most trouble getting their code to work: []

..... that search is almost entirely results of the form:

try {
} finally {
    working = true;

So no, I don't think it shows anything about Java. If you want to get a similar string for Java I'd suggest variants on "TODO: Refactor this". Java has very powerful refactoring IDEs and the corporate world has more of an emphasis on constantly refactoring stuff (hey, it's less effort than debugging some stupid bug reported by marketing, right?).

Comment: Re:Hate for Uber (Score 5, Interesting) 132

I'll never understand the hate for Uber.

You may not agree with it, but surely you must understand it? For what it's worth I am ambivalent about Uber and I am a Bitcoin developer, so I'm hardly someone to have kneejerk reactions against libertarian positions. But I do fully understand why Uber makes people uncomfortable.

The basic issue here is we are all raised in a social environment where it is assumed that law and morality are the same thing. Children aren't exposed to the difference at all - if a child asks their parents "why can't I do this thing?" and get an answer like "because it's against the law honey" then they aren't likely to enquire any further, and if they did, it's unlikely their parents will launch into a deep discussion of the history and theory of state power. It's just something you don't do because it's against the law.

In parallel children observe something else - things that are illegal are very often bad, and things that are bad are very often illegal. If a kid doesn't like it when her older brother steals her toys, and then her parents tell her that (a) stealing is wrong and (b) stealing is against the law, the link between law and morality is reinforced. Keep doing this over and over and the two notions develop as one.

Eventually, when we're much much older, we may start reading in the newspapers about miscarriages of justice. We realise the system is flawed. We may encounter laws or regulations that don't make much sense. We may decide that laws in other countries are unjust. But the notion that breaking the law is inherently immoral is ingrained very deep and is very hard to discard. Does English even have a word for an act which is illegal yet moral? I can't think of one. The closest is the concept of civil disobedience, but somewhere along the line that notion got linked with the idea that you have to put yourself up for arbitrary punishment as part of the "protest". So all governments have to do is make the punishments incredibly severe and hey, now there's no civil disobedience anymore, thus all law must be moral, right?

Laws are especially important because they are intended to give people stability, certainty and the ability to make long term plans. Some philosophers argue that the entire purpose of the state is to give people the ability to make long term plans. Certainly, stability is how regimes like the PRC justify their existence. The ideal body of law is precise, easy to understand, minimal, just and yet robustly enforced - thus everyone knows where the line is drawn and everyone can stay on the right side of it. Of course, real law falls short of this ideal quite often.

Now throw technological change in the mix. Larry Page once observed that it seems every time someone invents something new it starts out by being illegal. I can't quite remember where he said this unfortunately, so I can't give a citation. It might even have been some internal Google event. But he's said very similar things in the past in public.

So, enter companies like Uber. Or Lyft, or AirBnB, or even PayPal (it had a world of legal pain in the early years). Does anyone seriously think it'd be possible to build a service like Uber in the legal way? Bear in mind that many of the taxi regulations that governments want to mindlessly enforce specify details of things like how CB Radio is to be used (irrelevant with smartphones), how to print license information in the vehicle (irrelevant with smartphones), that the vehicle should be bright yellow so it can be spotted from the street (irrelevant with smartphones) .... in India they even specify that you must have a minimum of 12 phone lines going to your New Delhi based HQ! And you can forget about just asking nicely for change. Taxi regulators appear to be pretty much the opposite of dynamism, and taxi regulations are so boring that no parliament or local council is going to radically overhaul them for a company that hasn't got any customers yet, against the interests of the incumbents.

In a few parts of the world, it might have been possible to launch something a bit like Uber without any serious changes and with a cooperative partnership with the local taxi regulators. But it seems from practical experience that this would exclude vast chunks of the worlds population. And without economies of scale, perhaps Uber wouldn't be anything like what it is. So we have a case where to make progress, technologically, the law must be broken on a massive scale. But of course if the law ceases to be respected ..... where do you draw the line? Suddenly, there is no certainty any more. That stability the law exists to create is gone.

Therefore whether you approve or disapprove of Uber specifically has little to do with taxis or the details of these regulations. It's more of a proxy debate for a much deeper issue: which do you value more? Technological progress, or stability?

I have seen no surveys. But I'd be willing to bet that support for or against Uber has some kind of slight age bias to it.

Comment: Re:What has been leaked is not encouraging either (Score 1) 169

by IamTheRealMike (#49636555) Attached to: Extreme Secrecy Eroding Support For Trans-Pacific Partnership

By the same argument, if the government changes the income tax to 95% from next year, I have no recourse other than paying it

Actually, no, you could leave. And people do leave, look at France's 75% top rate. So can businesses. When a business leaves it tends to have more impact than when a single person does though.

Changing any law at any time is the right of the government. If it adversely affects you, tough luck

Yes, it is, you are correct. But not doing so is a big part of the difference between, say, Europe and Africa. In one place businesses and people can make long term plans. In other parts of the world, not so much. How you dish out the "tough luck" is a big part of how you make a successful country.

So sure - go ahead and hate on ISDS and anything that levels the playing field a bit between governments and businesses. Just don't cry when your economy is left behind.

Comment: Re:Problem, Reaction, Solution... (Score 2) 195

by IamTheRealMike (#49630085) Attached to: French Version of 'Patriot Act' Becomes Law

You hardly need to be mentally ill to reach this conclusion. Sure, it's not like there's a grand master plan nailed to a wall somewhere. But to conclude governments helped create this situation all you need to do is read about the background of the attackers. Their radicalisation started due to the US invasion of Iraq. When the attackers tried to go to Iraq to fight against the occupation they were arrested and thrown in prison, where they met a radical Islamist.

No war? Probably the chain of events that led to the attack would never have happened. Our governments will continue to be in denial about this because politicians feel they should be able to engage in arbitrary foreign "policy" (i.e. invasions, occupations, picking winners in regional conflicts) without any kind of repercussions or blowback at all. When reality refuses to go along with this notion they claim it's an outrage and the solution is to record more telephone calls.

From the article:

The Buttes-Chaumont group’s jihadi aspirations were directly linked to the second Iraq war in 2003. They would sit in apartments watching footage of the US-led invasion. “Everything I saw on TV, the torture in Abu Ghraib prison, all that, that’s what motivated me,” one of Kouachi’s friends told their trial.

But under Jacques Chirac, France had refused to intervene in the Iraq war and the young cell’s stance wasn’t really a movement against the French state. It was more a rage directed against the US. Some of the group stated that jihad wasn’t done in France. The focal point was fighting a foreign invader in Iraq.

“They were the pioneers of French jihadiism,” said Jacques Follorou, a journalist at Le Monde and author of the book Democracy under Control, the Posthumous Victory of Bin Laden, about security issues

A bit later in the same article ....

Kouachi, who scraped a living delivering for El Primo Pizza on the other side of the ring-road that serves as a moat around Paris, was arrested in January 2005 on his way to catch a flight to Damascus, believed to be ultimately heading for Iraq ..... He got a relatively light prison sentence, three years with 18 months suspended, as there was little hard evidence against him except a plane ticket for Damascus.

After his arrest while trying to fly to Damascus in 2005, Kouachi was on remand in the notorious Fleury-Mérogis prison south of Paris, a super-size decaying concrete mega-jail, which is Europe’s largest prison ..... He added that when the young men were arrested and held on remand before their case in 2008, prison gave them access to a universe never known before. “If the Butte-Chaumonts was an informal school of jihad, prison was the superior diploma.”


One of the prisoners involved in publicising the terrible conditions [in the prison] was Amédy Coulibaly. He was an armed robber on his third sentence, this time for robbery, receiving stolen goods and using false number plates. Coulibaly met Kouachi inside the prison and they became close during seven months on the same wing – prisoners from similar backgrounds and affinity were kept together on the same blocks, which allowed them to convene. Less than a decade later, Coulibaly joined the Kouachis in last week’s terrorist attacks .... In prison together, Kouachi and Coulibaly found not only friendship but a mentor who radicalised them

Comment: Re:Not law yet (Score 1) 195

by IamTheRealMike (#49629929) Attached to: French Version of 'Patriot Act' Becomes Law

I also use Gandi but only for DNS. As far as I can tell there's not much useful that intelligence agencies could do with that, except get IPs of ISP resolvers that are looking up the names. So I will probably leave things be for now. But I wouldn't buy any other more critical services from them. Shame - seems like a good company.

It's time to boot, do your boot ROMs know where your disk controllers are?