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Comment Re:Soft Power (Score 2) 359

And when Europe decides to ignore a whole lot of American drug patents in return?

The reason the WTO exists is to try and avoid tit-for-tat trade wars like what you're suggesting. Ultimately they make everyone poorer.

The US has an uncompetitive tax system for corporations. It's not even about the rate, it's about the fact that they're double taxed on worldwide income, something no other country does. Instead of coming up with creative ways to try and "punish" people who develop life saving drugs for getting sick of American tax exceptionalism, why not find ways to make them want to stay?

Comment Re:What idiocy (Score 1) 308

To which I ask, what's your point? I accept that risk in the name of freedom. You can have freedom or the illusion of safety, which would you prefer?

The idea that guns lead to freedom is based on a simple assumption: an overly oppressive government could be overthrown through some sort of armed uprising. This is a fantasy. Nobody in America has any chance of overthrowing or resisting their local government through force of arms. If you attempted it alone, you'd be immediately killed by armed police and written off as just another guy with mental problems. If you tried to coordinate a group bigger than 10 people you'd be detected and classified as some sort of domestic terrorists, and most likely end up in a firefight with a much larger, better armed and better armoured group than yourself (US police have access to ex-military equipment from Iraq, right).

But there are literally no scenarios in which a government passes a law, a bunch of people start shooting up police stations or senate buildings, and that government says, "oh ok, I guess that was kind of oppressive, we'll repeal the law" and everything goes back to being peaches and cream.

So it's a false choice. Guns do not equate to freedom and the cultural link between the two is an American-specific phenomenon.

Comment Re:Next step? (Score 1) 111

There are apps for Android that claim to do exactly that. I believe some of them warn you if you were downgraded to 2G unexpectedly or if encryption was switched off by the cell site.

Two problems. One is nobody uses such apps. It needs to be integrated with the OS really. And another is that apparently the makers of the Stingray devices have a device that can attack 3G networks as well. This latter device is only rumoured and last time I researched it, I concluded almost nothing is known about how it works, assuming it actually works at all. It's possible it's doing something like exploiting bugs in radio firmwares or something like that.

Comment Re:Praise be to Putin (Score 1) 291

Putin has staged terrorist acts against his own citizens before.

Although some of those events look pretty bad at first, there's nonetheless significant criticism of that theory from neutral third parties.

The biggest criticism of it is that the entire conspiracy theory makes no sense, as it revolves around the idea that Putin's FSB bombed its own people to create support for the war in Chechnya. Except that war had already been started by Yeltsin with the full support of all the power structures and Putin's 1999 attack on Chechnya was preceded by the insurrection in Dagestan. There was no need for apartment bombings to get an excuse to engage in military action in Chechnya. The claimed motive just doesn't line up with the actual timings of events.

The second biggest criticism is that the people who suggested the possibility had no evidence for it good enough to stand up in a court.

The third biggest criticism is that whilst the motive of the Kremlin to do this was rather garbled, a Chechen rebel leader had actually said "[they would] set off bombs everywhere", "Russian women and children will pay for the crimes of Russian generals." and that "this will not happen tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow" ..... and two days after he said that, an apartment building was bombed. And after fighting in Dagestan was concluded the bombings stopped.

So you have two possibilities - Islamic extremists bombed the apartment buildings in retaliation for their insurrection being put down. That possibility is a simple one. Or the Russian government engaged in a conspiracy to bomb its own people in a false flag operation. Given the history since 1999 of Islamists blowing shit up, I say ... go with Occam's Razor.

Comment Re:Praise be to Putin (Score 1) 291

He is not fighting against ISIS, he is fighting for Assad

Because Putin is not an idiot.

The idea western governments seem to have is that they can air-strike IS out of existence. Reality check: you cannot bomb a state out of existence short of using nukes and killing everyone within its territory. The idea that they can drop bombs on a few buildings and get rid of IS is about as realistic as the 9/11 hijackers idea that they could destroy America by destroying a few office buildings. Who cares? Countries and governments are spread out, and stronger than that.

The only actual way to expunge IS from the world without literally glassing half of Syria is to have boots on the ground, an army that is close enough to the action to separate friends from foes, and a credible replacement for IS once it's gone. Western powers are unwilling to provide either of those things: they won't put soldiers on the ground, and they don't know what would replace IS if it was gone. Oh, wait, maybe those "moderate" rebels (lol).

Russia and Putin, whether you like them or not, are clear thinkers. To get rid of IS they need an army. Assad has an army. Check. They need a credible replacement for IS. Assad is such a replacement. He may not be a good leader, indeed in many ways he's incredibly bad, but there don't appear to be any good leadership candidates in Syria and Assad is at least a good old fashioned mostly secular dictator, as opposed to a crazed death cultist.

One problem - Assad is on the verge of losing against the "moderate" rebels (like al-Qaeda) who are being armed by the CIA. The CIA doesn't have a fucking clue what will happen if Assad falls, they just aren't capable of thinking that far ahead, but it's fair to say that the bits of Syria where women can walk around dressed like westerners will quickly become .... not like that.

So Russia props up Assad. That mostly means hitting the "moderate" rebels. If Assad manages to stabilise his position and regain control over the areas currently controlled by the non-IS rebels, then there's a credible battle tested army that's fighting for its own existence ready and waiting to go to war against IS.

Comment Re:How effective is this (Score 1) 274

I understand that cutting of the money supply for terrorist is very effective

Based on what? Have there been any successful financial actions against terrorists, ever? I know the US Treasury likes to claim there has, but whenever you look at the details you discover that by "terrorist" they meant something like "someone wiring money to Cuba or Iran". Not actual terrorists of the kind that blow themselves up.

The blunt reality is that terrorism is very cheap. The entire cost of 9/11 came under the $10,000 reporting threshold for cash transactions.

The idea that you can attack terrorism through finance doesn't make much sense. It just has too little to do with money.

Comment Re:We don't need "backdoors" (Score 1) 259

Put simply, there exist plenty of systems and techniques that don't depend on a third-party who could possibly grant access to secure communications. These systems aren't going to disappear. Why would terrorists or other criminals use a system that could be monitored by authorities when secure alternatives exist? Why would ordinary people?

That's a really easy answer -- terrorists use these simple platforms for the same reason normal people do: because they're easy to use. Obviously a lot of our techniques and capabilities have been laid bare, but people use things like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Telegram because they're easy. It's the same reason that ordinary people -- and terrorists -- don't use Ello instead of Facebook, or ProtonMail instead of Gmail. And when people switch to more complicated, non-turnkey encryption solutions -- no matter how "simple" the more savvy may think them -- they make mistakes that can render their communications security measures vulnerable to defeat.

I'm not saying that the vendors and cloud providers ALWAYS can provide assistance; but sometimes they can, given a particular target (device, email address, etc.), and they can do so in a way that comports with the rule of law in free society, doesn't require creating backdoors in encryption, and doesn't require "weakening" their products. And of course, it would be good if we were able to leverage certain things against legitimate foreign intelligence targets without the entire world knowing exactly what we are doing, so our enemies know exactly how to avoid it. Secrecy is required for the successful conduct of intelligence operations, even in free societies.

Comment Re:We don't need "backdoors" (Score 1) 259

Sure. One hypothetical example:

The communication has to be decrypted somewhere; the endpoint(s) can be exploited in various ways. That can be done now. US vendors could, in theory, be at least a partial aid in that process on a device-by-device basis, within clear and specific legal authorities, without doing anything like key escrow, wholesale weakening of encryption, or similar with regard to software or devices themselves.

The point is that when US adversaries use systems and services physically located in the US, designed and operated by US companies, there are many things that could be discussed depending on the precise system, service, software, or device. Pretending that there is absolutely nothing that can be done, and it's either unbreakable, universal encryption for all, or nothing, is a false choice.

To sit here and pretend that it's some kind of "people's victory" when a technical system renders itself effectively impenetrable to the legitimate legal, judicial, and intelligence processes of even democratic governments operating under the rule of law in free civil society is curious indeed.

Comment Communities? (Score 2) 91

I went and took a look at the Game of Thrones community, seeing as that's apparently an example they wanted to highlight about how great this aspect of G+ is. It consists almost entirely of image macros. That is not what the word 'community' implies to me.

I don't see how G+ can possibly ever get good at communities whilst it revolves around Facebook-sized pieces of text with giant images attached, and especially not whilst it insists on clipping posts and comments to just a couple of lines. When I'm on the internet I want to see WORDS and not endless idiotic memes posted over and over. I wish to be entertained and informed. G+ has no chance of doing either unless it redesigns a heck of a lot more than the stylesheets.

Comment We don't need "backdoors" (Score 3, Informative) 259

And the NYT has a new and extensive story that absolutely "mentions" crypto.

We don't need "backdoors". What we need is a clear acknowledgment that what increasingly exists essentially amounts to a virtual fortress impenetrable by the legal mechanisms of free society, that many of those systems are developed and employed by US companies, and that US adversaries use those systems against the US and our allies, and for a discussion to start from that point.

The US has a clear and compelling interest in strong encryption, and especially in protecting US encryption systems used by our government, our citizens, and people around the world from defeat. But the assumption that the only alternatives are either universal strong encryption, or wholesale and deliberate weakening of encryption systems and/or "backdoors", is a false dichotomy.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!