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Government-grade spyware hits Mexican advocates of soda tax (bendbulletin.com)
300 points by srameshc 9 days ago | hide | past | web | 138 comments | favorite





>[NSO Group] claims to sell its spyware only to law enforcement agencies to track terrorists, criminals and drug lords

>An NSO spokesman reiterated those restrictions in a statement Thursday, and said the company had no knowledge of the tracking of health researchers and advocates inside Mexico

>NSO executives point to technical safeguards that prevent clients from sharing its spy tools.

Of the above only two can be true. My bet is they sell to anyone who can pay.


Governments often classify protest groups as "terrorists."

The UK government has spent millions investigating non-violent environmental groups for one example, using anti-terrorism funds, teams, and laws to do so.

Companies asking the government to squish protestors is also extremely common all around the world. I mean in the US right now we have oil pipelines which primarily benefit private companies getting built by the Army Corps of Engineers using public money and protesters harassed & beaten by police. All to reduce an oil company's costs and/or increase their profit margins.


Isn't the land simply the property of the Army Corps of Engineers, and it's being built by a private company?

The USACE is a weird organisation. It's part of the US army, but almost exclusively does domestic civil engineering and public works.


First, finding useful things to do with all those military people outside of wartime is a major issue especially when they need to suddenly stop doing that during a war. Second, a lot of civil infrastructure has military implications. EX: It's hard to make a dam you can't take out with explosives, but you can do a lot of things down stream to make destroying it less important.

So, as a bonus it keeps the organization's skills up to date.


The land was illegally annexed by the government. The Sioux signed a treaty that was broken by the US, were offered money in compensation for the land, which they refused. That land abuts the reservation's surface water sources. Without it they have no water security, an asset they consider priceless.

The ownership remains contentious.


That land was stolen from the Arikara/Sahnish by the Sioux using guns and horses acquired from trading with Europeans. The descendants of the Arikara/Sahnish now live on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The venue to resolve this dispute was in the courts and the timevto do it was Years and decades before there was a project planned for that land. However, if we're really going to go down this absurd path, let's take the entire Standing Rock reservation away from the Sioux and hand it over to the Arikara/Sahnish.


I just want to emphasize that I made no assertions about the true "rightful owner of the land." I don't think there'd be a problem if the army wanted to build a wind farm or solar farm, or even housing on the land. They want to build an oil pipeline. The problem with framing this as a ownership dispute is that that is a overly reductive minimization of the actual issue: water security.

The city of Bismarck to the North asserted its political right to water security over land it didn't own when it forced the pipeline to reroute South, to the current planned route over the reservation.[0] Now, the Native Americans are being forced to take the risk that the 95% white city community found unpalatable.

0. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-nodapl-map_us_581a0623...


Shouldn't the USA honor its treaty obligations?

The US didn't break the treaty first (or even second). The truth is that there isn't clear pedigree to that land near as I can tell. I've tried to figure out title as far back as 2004. Beyond that, I'd probably have to go to Morton County to figure out more. It's very likely that if you go back far enough, it was transferred under the Dawes Act. Whatever the pedigree, the venue to deal with this dispute was in the courts well before 2014. The courts are the right venue to determine who owns the land, not the court of public opinion. The entire conflict happening there is an exercise in virtue signaling by environmentalists that are using another cause to further theirs. It's populism and vigilantism rolled into one. Institutions like the US Justice system actually work really well by global standards. Allowing disputes to negotiated outside the court system adds lots of legal uncertainty that destabilizes day to day life.

FWIW I wasn't even born in the United States, but I am an immigrant that has been here since 1986.


I find that history interesting.

What absurd path? I honestly don't understand what you are getting at.


The absurd path of the court of public opinion and a cultural marxist framed discussion of the "oppressed vs oppressors". Protesting on land that is currently recognized as private land is depriving its owners of its use. If the ownership is in dispute, the venue to resolve that dispute is in the courts. Literally no one cared about the land until a pipeline was going to be placed on it.

FWIW, my original source for this information is a friend who is 1/4 Sioux and thinks the protest is absurd. I've fact checked his claim. The Sioux only occupied the land east of the Missouri river in pre-contact America. The Arikara/Sahnish were agrarian people driven off their land by the Sioux.


The problem with going to court is precedent. The Sioux don't want the court to rule in favor of the government. That would set precedent about the government's ability to force the exchange of native land for fiat currency.

The problem is that in the west private ownership carries with it a right to destroy. If the army corps wanted to build a wind farm on the plot, there wouldn't be a problem. They want to build an oil pipeline over the water supply.

If a disaster were to occur, there is court precedent for abdicating the company of any responsibility for cleanup.[0] The present administration's Indian Affairs appointee wants to preserve this privatization agenda at all costs[1], so there's even less likely recourse if damages should occur.

0. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-06-28/india...

1. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-tribes-insight-i...


Not the op, but I think they mean by "absurb path" that if the land is taken from the Sioux and given back to the Arikara/Sahnish because the Sioux took it violently, there might be quite a lot of other US land that has to be given back as that too was taken violently.

> The UK government has spent millions investigating non-violent environmental groups for one example, using anti-terrorism funds, teams, and laws to do so.

Not sure what situation you're talking about here in particular, but curious: do you think that government should investigate organization only after violence occurs? Or do you think that environmental organizations by their nature can't turn violent and terrorist?


I don't know about the person you're asking, but I'd rather not have a state prying into my business at all, in fact I'd lke it even less than if someone else did it. The idea that a person or group has the right to intrude in my privacy is something I oppose, and I see no reason why having force (And claiming you have the right to use it against people you don't like) and calling yourself a state changes that.

The government can mind it's own business, as I pay it only to avoid government threat to my autonomy. It is illegitimate, propped up by no more than the monarch who claims God props her up.


Not really. The client may not be sharing its spy tools but is very likely lying about how organizations are being classified as terrorists.

This is about the law enforcement agency, not the arms dealer.


Two most common misleading statements by law enforcement these days:

1) They were resisting arrest.

2) They are terrorists.

Makes it hard to find cases where there are actual terrorists or people actually resisting arrest.


It's not easy to tell who is who unless they investigate, so they end up investigating the innocent as well as the guilty. Take the inauguration, there were so many peaceful protesters, coupled with a few idiots who chose to be violent, like this guy, who was charged in a plot to attack people by dumping acid into a ventilation system at an inaugural party:

https://mpdc.dc.gov/release/arrest-made-conspiracy-commit-as...


OK, butyric acid aka the smell of sour milk.

Me, I would have picked butanethiol.

But my first thought, reading "dumping acid", was LSD ;)


Like a lot of things, that depends on exposure and concentration. Uncontrolled exposure from concentrated acid delivered via ventilation systems could easily end up on the higher end of the scale, even ignoring second order effects like an unplanned evacuation of a building surrounded by protests. The acid has a '3' for health effects (and a '2' for flammability).

https://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9923216

Potential Acute Health Effects:

Very hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of ingestion. Hazardous in case of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, permeator). Liquid or spray mist may produce tissue damage particularly on mucous membranes of eyes, mouth and respiratory tract. Skin contact may produce burns. Inhalation of the spray mist may produce severe irritation of respiratory tract, characterized by coughing, choking, or shortness of breath.

Potential Chronic Health Effects:

The substance is toxic to lungs, the nervous system, mucous membranes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated or prolonged contact with spray mist may produce chronic eye irritation and severe skin irritation. Repeated or prolonged exposure to spray mist may produce respiratory tract irritation leading to frequent attacks of bronchial infection.


It's as nasty as the acetic acid, also a '3' for health effects and a '2' for flammability. http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9922769

For this kind of chemical compounds it's very important to consider the concentration before getting scared.

If you put a 5% of acetic acid in water, you essentially get vinegar. No one is afraid of vinegar and it has almost no health risks. I think it would be not a good idea to put your head in a bathtub full of vinegar. (I never tried.) But vinegar is safe enough to use it to rinse your hair, drop it in your hands and drink a small amount of it. (Just don't put it in your eyes!)

I worked a few decades ago with acetic acid 100% a few times. For historical reasons it's called Glacial Acetic Acid. Very nasty stuff. If someone opens a bottle the smell is so strong that it will make you weep in spite you are a few foots away. It's better to open it only in a fume hood, or something that keeps the smell away. I never tried to touch it. I think that if you touch it and wash immediately there are no risk, perhaps a small rush. But definitely keep it far away from the eyes and nose.

I agree with the sibling comment that it was more a stinky bomb that something designed to kill someone. Anyway, the police should stop them, but without exaggerating the risks. For example in a recent soccer math in Argentina one of the spectators throw some kind of homemade pepper spray to the players of the other team. It was too strong and a few payers had to go to the hospital. Autotranslation: https://translate.google.com.ar/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y...


I agree, it was probably not intended to kill anyone. I don't agree that it couldn't have. People could have been trampled during evacuation, someone could have already had respiratory ailments, etc.

Motive aside, even if it could have killed ten people by downplaying that risk the terrorists lose.

It's kind of like how sending suicide bombers to Israel is pretty much futile. The populace knows that unless they come by the hundreds of thousands it's not a risk worth being scared of. You can't terrorize people who don't think you're scary.



I feel like that distinction isn't as hard as you're making it sound

I'm sure there are what appear to be clear-cut cases, especially in retrospect. I'm also sure that all of our 99% accurate heuristics we use in daily life will fail spectacularly on some minority of cases when applied 100,000 times.

But hey - if you look at law enforcement as a business, then spurious/weak reasons for arrest or investigation simply increase your business flow and reasons for existing.

The problem is that the media and judiciary are completely coopted, letting the corporatization of law enforcement continue unchecked. Where is the slap-down in the courts (or court of public opinion) of police serving money instead of their constituency?

tl;dr - it's a symptom of a bigger problem.


the judiciary is bound by precedent, and there are 5-4 conservative Supreme Court rulings from the 80s to the early 2000s that cemented the status quo into place.

With Trump/Pence as POTUS the judiciary will be hamstrung for years barring a truly massive public groundswell behind reversing some of those decisions - if that happened, you might see a single judge flip. Whether that's enough depends on who dies before 2021.


Arms dealers have some responsibility about which governments and government agencies they sell arms to. At some point the German government forbade selling of certain broad categories of arms to the Mexican military, based on observing how often those arms ended up in the hands of drug cartels. I am from Mexico and we shouldn't be in any list that allows selling spy software, yet for some reason we are considered a Wassenaar Arrangement nation, so in principle we get a lot of sophisticated arms despite being constantly brought up for state violence and torture by the OAS ( http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Mexico2016-en.pdf )

Agreed, but it still comes down to demanding more from law enforcement agencies in multiple jurisdictions.

Contractors exist to implement the policies of their clients. What agency holds the contract? Who manages the system? Which electeds approved the budget? Which electeds administered the program?

Laying this at the feet of the contractor is not going far enough.


Believe me, we are demanding, but it is not clear we will ever know any of that. We have been fighting for 2+ years to try to get to the bottom of a case in which 43 students were murdered, apparently by the army and the federal police, and that took an intervention by the O.A.S., pressure from the E.U. and forensic investigators from other countries in Latin America going into Mexico with the backing of their own governments. So far we are starting to get a picture, but not a clear one and none of the people implicated by journalists or international organizations has been punished so far, only those people the federal government has chosen to scapegoat. This is still great progress over the incident in 1968, where the culprits of another student massacre essentially died of old age before the government recognized fault. That's Mexico for you. Keep in mind we were a de facto party dictatorship up until 2000 and the governments after that have been exceedingly corrupt and violent. That's why I am saying that governments with a functioning rule of law shouldn't be selling spyware and arms to Mexico.

Nothing above excuses the actions of the government, and be sure that activists will try all legal avenues and all protest avenues to get to the bottom of it. But if the people doing this are even remotely well connected, we won't get them, we will get 4 construction workers who will go on tv with clear torture signs to declare they did it (that was what happened with the killing of the 43 students, among other things).


Plenty of stories out there how completely normal individuals are targeted as terrorists.

Example: http://www.mercurynews.com/2014/01/14/no-fly-list-challenged...


Maybe 2.5 of those are true

>[NSO Group] claims to sell its spyware only to law enforcement agencies to track terrorists, criminals and drug lords

>An NSO spokesman reiterated those restrictions in a statement Thursday, and said the company had no knowledge of the tracking of health researchers and advocates inside Mexico

>NSO executives point to technical safeguards that prevent clients from sharing its spy tools.

LE says to NSO that this infection will be used on a track terrorists, criminals and drug lords by ticking the "We will only send this to infect terrorists, criminals and drug lords" checkbox, NSO gen's the unique link that needs to be visited to infect the device and then either LE or NSO send the target the text.

In other discovered 0days the servers the links where pointing to were in control of the group selling the hacks and no LE. My bet is a part of the "controls" they have inplace is not actually handing over the exploits, but offering an "exploit as a service".

Ofcause that doesn't stop LE saying "Gen link for number X, number X belongs to a bad guy..." and number X being a device belonging to their own tech teams to reverse the exploit and then they create their own.


> claims to sell its spyware only to law enforcement agencies to track terrorists, criminals and drug lords

Once you sell how can you control where it is used ?


EULA, because everyone knows clicking I Agree is like taking a blood oath.

That's actually an interesting problem, if a company licenses software to someone and they use it maliciously, can the parent company be held responsible in some way because it was licensed?


I am not sure if law enforcement agencies actually give a damn about EULA. They dont give a flying F about constitution and bill of rights on regular basis I find it hard to believe they actually give much damn about EULA especially when they are the only customer that company has.

It's highly unlikely that the company could be sued because the EULA would almost certainly have an indemnity clause covering that scenario.

> claims to sell its spyware only to law enforcement agencies to track terrorists, criminals and drug lords

How would they even know, whether the people targeting are terrorists, crims or lords? That is a ridiculous statement.

Maybe they have a form that governments must sign saying that the gov will only target those people, but it is a ridiculous statement.


Unless someone circumvented the safeguards, but I don't really know enough to say how likely that is.

I would imagine that if someone had the ability to defeat their safeguards they would have the ability to recreate the tools themselves.

At this level, these tools are more weapons than software. All the client wants is an end, they could care less about the means.


>I would imagine that if someone had the ability to defeat their safeguards they would have the ability to recreate the tools themselves.

Why would you imagine that? People circumvent the DRM on Photoshop, Windows, and lots of other complex software all the time. They most certainly don't have the ability--time, money, expertise, and workforce--to recreate those products.


You're assuming the safeguard is not a startup nag screen asking whether you are a legally authorized user of the app. Something like those idiotic questionnaires you get to fill when flying to the USA

Seems like "Big Sugar" is increasingly behaving like the new "Big Tobacco" as they gear up to fight against regulation and taxation.

The sugar industry has been doing this for about as long as the tobacco industry. They've been using their influence to poison nutrition science for decades and steer modern dental practices.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-in...

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/jou...


Big Oil has done this in the past too. I remember reading 'Private Empire' about ExxonMobil and the previous CEO was funding all of these PHD researchers to challenge climate science research in the early 2000s. They were quite successful at it too.

Fortunately when Rex Tillerson (current Secretary of State), who was trained as an engineer, took over ExxonMobil he stopped the company from taking a climate denial position and took some minor steps to reverse that position, such as investing in some green tech companies. This was largely due to the fact they got a bad name from doing it and they otherwise had a very rigid clean cut image. So it's important to call these companies out when they do it. Despite what people think corporations do respond to bad press.

Especially companies run by engineers and scientists, they can be persuaded to stop being anti-science. Now if only we could get more STEM people into politics on the right... One thing lawyers aren't known for is an affinity for numbers and science.


I wonder if the technology to convert sugar to ethanol exists in the 1960s, which would probably involve yeast. Even turning it to charcoal using sulfuric acid would be better. (background: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-in...)

The technology to convert sugar to ethanol probably existed in the 6660s. BC, that is. (And yes, it probably involved yeast.)

And burning the ethanol in say power plants would not be hard even back then and better than burning fossil fuels, right?

EROEI would have something to say about that - where's the power used in harvesting and refining the sugar vs. refining crude oil?

BioFuels, unless you're talking about biodiesel which was generally using waste byproduct, are a losing proposition.

Solar, Nuclear, Wind all provide a much higher total output than biofuels.

[1] http://www.roperld.com/science/minerals/EROEIFossilFuels.htm


The point is whether it would be better than eating the sugar, hence why I posted the nytimes link.

The point is not to invest in sugar or corn creation in the first place simply to have it turn into fuel or sweeteners.

Here is the original report from Citizen Lab:

https://citizenlab.org/2017/02/bittersweet-nso-mexico-spywar...


Using the software in a way that reveals its use seems ham-handed, perhaps its not a sophisticated actor using it in this instance.

But that is in some ways even more disturbing. It shows the capability is so available that even the unsophisticated are able to use it.


>Using the software in a way that reveals its use seems ham-handed, perhaps its not a sophisticated actor using it in this instance.

Or the message they want to pass is "we're tracking you", and that's more powerful than anything to get from actual tracking.


Yeah, and the alleged hooks sounds obvious. FTA, it's close to Nigerian prince-quality ("your daughter is dead", "your wife is cheating", ...). Doesn't sound very sophisticated, but perhaps they did some profiling and that's the level they thought deemed suitable. I mean, some actually do fall for the prince-thing.

NSO says it sells only to governments and law enforcement. This includes by definition a lot of unsophisticated actors.

> The soda industry has poured over $67 million into defeating state and local efforts to regulate soft drink sales in the United States since 2009, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Why don't these companies just pivot harder towards diet sodas? Seems like a win-win.


There's more money in sugar-addicted fat people. Even in the US, drug and food policy is coordinated (see FDA drug approval board https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/100/5/296/938813/Membe...). It's a big industry where profitable addictive foods also support a lucrative obesity healthcare industry ($190bn in the US, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesi...).

> It's a big industry where profitable addictive foods also support a lucrative obesity healthcare industry

And that's the crux of the problem, isn't it?

If the U.S. had a single-payer healthcare system, you can bet it would care a lot more about issues like obesity, pollution, and all the things that make people sick and would make the government pay more for healthcare. It would have an incentive to reduce those issues.

Instead, the U.S. has a system where it's "profitable" to have sick people, so the stuff that makes people sick is kept in place. It's the same kind of the same perverse incentives we see with the private prison industry.


Your argument is based on the incorrect assumption that the obese and smokers cost more over their lifespan for healthcare relative to a health individual. The reality is the opposite.

For the population at large, MOST health care costs are accumulated at 60+, see this graph[0]. In fact ages 1-50, on average, cost almost as much as 65-75. And worse still from retirement people pay a lot less tax.

Why is this relevant? Smokers and the Obese often die after their working (and taxpaying) life but before their expensive retirement. This means that while their last few years might be more expensive, their costs over the course of their life may be half that of someone that lived until 85.

The ironic thing is that obesity/smoking might save social security from insolvency and be a massive saving for Medicare (as the Obese/Smokers won't ever enter Medicare, but will pay tons into it). Single payer would likely include the current Medicare ages, thus it would still remain cheaper to cover an Obese/Smoker who dies at 60 than a completely healthy person that dies at 80.

The reality is that people hate the Obese/Smokers due to biases, not costs. Or because they think it is immoral/a character flaw to allow oneself to die early. There's no actual economic argument to be made that Obesity/Smoking is bad for society, they're net contributors by every major metric (particularly healthcare, retirement contributions, and taxes).

There's been multiple studies drawing the same conclusion[1][2][3]. But most won't look at the data, and ignore the "long tail" of healthy individuals that is so expensive while talking about the "short tail" expense of the obese or smokers.

[0] http://blogs-images.forbes.com/danmunro/files/2014/04/hccost...

[1] http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/jou...

[2] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199710093371506#t=a...

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2225433/


Does this imply that higher health insurance rates aimed at people with less healthy lifestyles is really just another insurance scam? Penalize them while we can, and easily get away with it because it is socially acceptable?

No because health insurance usually only last one year, and person with unhealthy lifestyle would statistically cost more than person with healthy lifestyle in one year at the same age.

Obese people spend thousands more per year on healthcare and an obese BMI of 30-35 results in only a 2-4 year lifespan reduction. The GP is massaging data to fit a fat acceptance narrative. Healthcare companies fight against obesity because of quality of life issues as well as cost savings. Its not a conspiracy.

The GP is presenting multiple studies in respectable journals. You'd have to show that the studies themselves are "massaging data" which you haven't attempted to do.

Forbes:

Obese men rack up an additional $1,152 a year in medical spending, especially for hospitalizations and prescription drugs, Cawley and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University reported in January in the Journal of Health Economics. Obese women account for an extra $3,613 a year. Using data from 9,852 men (average BMI: 28) and 13,837 women (average BMI: 27) ages 20 to 64, among whom 28 percent were obese, the researchers found even higher costs among the uninsured: annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271 compared with $512 for the non-obese.”

Making the cost impact all the more troubling is the fact that, unlike smokers, obese people tend to live almost as long as those who keep their weight under control. "Smokers die early enough that they save Social Security, private pensions, and Medicare" trillions of dollars", said Duke's Eric Finkelstein. "But mortality isn't that much higher among the obese."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/04/30/obesity-now...


The Klim McPherson study you linked doesn't have any real conclusion and is focused on UK health, which might have different factors than US healthcare, which is privately run for the most outside of retirement. None of your other cites calculate anything have to do with obesity costs in healthcare. I'm sorry but you sound like a typical fat acceptance advocate trying to skirt the issue.

Forbes:

Obese men rack up an additional $1,152 a year in medical spending, especially for hospitalizations and prescription drugs, Cawley and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University reported in January in the Journal of Health Economics. Obese women account for an extra $3,613 a year. Using data from 9,852 men (average BMI: 28) and 13,837 women (average BMI: 27) ages 20 to 64, among whom 28 percent were obese, the researchers found even higher costs among the uninsured: annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271 compared with $512 for the non-obese.”

Making the cost impact all the more troubling is the fact that, unlike smokers, obese people tend to live almost as long as those who keep their weight under control. "Smokers die early enough that they save Social Security, private pensions, and Medicare" trillions of dollars", said Duke's Eric Finkelstein. "But mortality isn't that much higher among the obese."

---

So in other words we're looking and year over year cost increases that are significant. A BMI of 30–35 kg/m2 reduces life expectancy by two to four years [wikipedia].

Two to four years is nothing especially when you have all these extra yearly costs to make up. Yes, the very obese can lose 6-10 years of life, but they're rare. 30-35 is the common range. Not to mention advances in stent technology and advances in heart drugs means that a obese person today is going to have a very good chance at a long lifespan. We may be able to eliminate that 2-4 shortage sooner than later.


> The Klim McPherson study you linked doesn't have any real conclusion and is focused on UK health, which might have different factors than US healthcare, which is privately run for the most outside of retirement.

Medicare is a public insurance scheme in the US, not private.

> None of your other cites calculate anything have to do with obesity costs in healthcare.

So you're dismissing one study ("Does Preventing Obesity Lead to Reduced Health-Care Costs?") because it uses data from the UK and ignoring the other completely ("Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure") why? Both are expressly about calculating costs in healthcare.

You aren't even arguing against their methodology or conclusions, just dismissing their mere existence.

> I'm sorry but you sound like a typical fat acceptance advocate trying to skirt the issue.

Bring up facts backed by studies is "skirting the issue?" What exactly does addressing the issue head on look like?

I am following the science where it leads. You can paint that as an ideology but I'd suggest dismissing studies you don't like the conclusion of is more ideological than presenting them as is. The key difference is that my views can be changed with more data, seems like your views have already been made up prior to today and you'll dismiss counter-evidence at a hand wave.


My article had actual facts. You had misleading factoids not directly related to obesity spending and obesity lifespans. There's a difference.

Not to mention the false claim you make compared obese people to smokers. Smokers do die young, obese do not. Again, a 2 year lifespace difference is not a cost savings when you're looking at several thousands per year extra healthcare spending for an obese person.

I'm sorry but your biased fat acceptance "facts" are false. I wish you would own up them, accept the data in the forbes article instead of attacking me in this passive aggressive fashion.


I appreciate the data in your post, but essentially calling the GP "a typical fat acceptance advocate" seems like a needless reductionist attack.

I'm in Australia and we have a fairly effective public health system.

We seem to have much the same problems as the US WRT regulation of harmful recreational foods.


[flagged]


> Are you familiar with 4th generation war theories? If you're interested drop me a line at gmail and I'll direct you to some fascinating reading.

Would you mind sharing a bit here?


Maybe start with this blog. and the Wikipedia article which is shallow but a good overview. I don't want to politicize the thread. http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/

Personally, I'd really prefer to not pay inflated costs for soda, should I choose to consume it.

I am however completely and 100% fine with paying a higher i.e. health insurance premium due to my soda drinking habit (or any other habit that causes my health risk to be higher).

I'm just not a big fan of 'sin taxes' -- though I could be persuaded if they were actually put to use in the same way that the health insurance/risk concept would be; I'm just not convinced that's actually what would happen in the long or short term.


I agree with the idea that sin taxation is stupid in the sense that there's a moral component involved. The tax in this case is essentially an indulgence. That said, I see a benefit in taxing soda and cigarettes in particular because they impose a substantial externalized cost on society that isn't reflected in their price. With smoking its lost productivity for smoking, sickness, secondhand smoke, etc. With soda its increased diabetes, weight, secondary issues (joints, etc.).

I do love me some regular Dr. Pepper, but it's so bad for me I rarely drink it any more. (Admission: I still drink diet soda. I had to acquire the taste.)


Please pardon me nitpicking on one phrase from your comment - it's not directed at you but at the discourse that often ensues when selective taxation is discussed. There was a soda tax on the ballot where I live last election season and I got more junk mail opposing it than all the other political mailers put together - completely wasted as it passed anyway :)

I absolutely reject the notion that tax on soda or other potentially-addictive substances are a punishment of the consumer for poor moral choices. Making sugar expensive is simply an effective strategy to lower consumption by shifting the equilibrium point for consumer purchases.

We have a family friend that's disabled, she's an adult but only able to read around a 4th grade level. She's seen her grandmother die of diabetes, her mom has it too and the friend herself is fat. But notwithstanding the healthy food we give her when she visits or stays with us, and no matter how many times we remind her about how to choose between different kinds of food, if she goes into a store on her own and has money she's more likely than not to buy 2 quart bottles of soda and drink one of them immediately.

It's really hard for some people, especially kids, to resist getting jacked up on sugar. The younger they do so the more likely they are to develop lifelong eating habits that are going to give them painful and expensive medical problems and send them into an early grave. There's no moral component involved at the consumption end for me because many people are just not smart enough to carry around the idea of healthy eating and to choose it over the marketing signals that surround them. The younger they get exposed to an addictive substance, the more difficulty they're likely to have resisting the temptation to consume it.

I am utterly indifferent to the economic situation of shareholders in the crap food industry. They don't have a right to make money out of people; it's usually the suppliers who make the moral argument about consumers needing to make healthy choices and tax being a horrible punishment. That's just an attempt to shift the entire burden of responsibility onto consumers at the same time that the suppliers are spending a fortune on marketing to kids. Frankly most of the drug dealers I've met in my life had more of a moral center than the professional lobbying and marketing people I've known.


While that is pretty sad, it is also an extreme case and it sounds like she either needs a caretaker or she needs a better caretaker; I would say the same thing about children: they are the parents responsibility.

And whether you reject the notion the fact of the matter is that it is still going to punish every responsible person with a new tax that will go into the general government coffers.


It's not an extreme case; it only seems so because this person is disabled and it's surprising to discover that this superficially adult person has the mind of a 9-year old. I'm using that to draw attention to the fact that kids often make terrible decisions, and there are a lot of 9-year olds buying a lot of soda whose future negative health outcomes are easy to overlook because marketing has trained people to associate soda with healthy people having fun.

I would say the same thing about children: they are the parents responsibility.

I know you would, and I think your reasoning is foolish. Many parents are clearly not responsible, either from indifference or ignorance. I am fine with government acting in loco parentis in a very narrow way (even for adults) because the negative health outcomes and their associated costs are predictable and lowering those costs has demonstrable overall utility. Available information shows this policy to function better than waiting for people to get a responsibility transplant and just shrugging our shoulders about kids who end up suffering because of their parents' poor guardianship.

How are you being 'punished' if your soda costs $0.50 more? When I smoked cigarettes I didn't feel punished by their continually-rising cost. I'd rather pay for something with a large negative externality at the point of purchase than in the form of income tax, since it's likely to be more efficient. The Coase theorem tells us that aside from transactional friction, it is no more expensive to pay up front than later, and in its role of insurer of last resort the public interest is best served by minimizing the predictable scope of the problem.

The fact that revenue ends up in the general fund is irrelevant; the objective is to reduce consumption, and soda taxes have been demonstrated to be effective in that goal. In case you're not familiar with the geography, Berkeley and San Francisco are only about 20 minutes apart by subway and travel between them for work or leisure is very common.

http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.3...


> It's really hard for some people, especially kids, to resist getting jacked up on sugar.

Somehow that reminds me of this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experimen...


oh come on, get off that high horse. if she's impaired she should be in custodial care. if she's not disabled then she's entitled to do what gives her pleasure. if she's as disabled as you say she is, who's to say that's not the best part of her day when she pops open that soda? she's entitled to make that choice regardless of what the hard left such as yourself think about it.

She is in custodial care but she's functional enough to visit people, take a dog for a walk, play videogames and paint pictures. When she's at our place we try to behave like responsible parents. Maybe it is the best part of her day to guzzle a quart of soda in one go, but as someone invested in looking after her I don't want her to suffer from diabetes later.

Also, have you noticed that many kids like soda but have poorly-developed reasoning skills because they're not finished growing? I object to people exploiting that to make money while avoiding the taxes to pay for the predictable social costs.


So those taxes on cigarettes are passed to employers for the lost productivity? And the taxes on sugar will be passed to insurance companies?

The answer is of course no to both... so people are being taxed because others are being infringed, but the taxes don't serve those infringed.

Also, diet soda has its' own issues... and more fat people are drinking diet soda than regular.

--

edit: Also, we don't need to tax soda, just stop subsidizing farming...


You don't need to pass the tax on to those effected for it to work. As long as people pay something like the costs they impose, they'll only do it when it's worth that cost. After that, it doesn't matter if the money goes to those effected, or the local schools, or road maintenance, or whatever.

I agree that not subsidizing sugar production would be a much better step to take here.


Wait..are you suggesting tax something because reason A in order to raise money for thing B where A has absolutely no relation to B? This is why people hate liberals. Why do we need to arbitrarily tax things? Let me guess these are things you don't like or use so you have no problem with increasing taxes on them.

No, I'm suggesting that if activity A imposes some external cost on B, you can discourage A by the "proper" amount by taxing it even if the money doesn't go to B.

Would you mind cutting out that "this is why people hate liberals" nonsense? It's incredibly obnoxious.


Lost productivity isn't a valid reason to tax something, unless you would also tax working less than full time, taking a year of to travel or fishing trips.

Just because you ingest something doesn't mean you will ever get sick. Maybe there are some people that can drink a lot of soda, but would never use the insurance.

I agree with the 'sin tax' because it places it closer to the source. There are many, many external variables that will affect the individual before it affects health insurance.

If "soda" is "bad", then tax soda. Don't attempt to figure out the cost once it is so far removed from the situation (i.e. don't attempt to measure the flapping of butterfly wings in a hurricane)


I think an issue with all of this is that the entire field send unreliable. Until recently a fat tax could have been conceivable. Right now a carb tax seems not unjustified. Since we don't fully understand what's causing it, maybe we should tax non-disease caused obesity? As far as I'm considered nutrition is a hot mess.

I like your idea, but it seems like then the government (or somebody) would have to have a guaranteed way to detect whether or not you're drinking soda, smoking, etc. Seems invasive.

If the only argument for a soda tax is the externalised costs of obesity healthcare, why not just charge people for obesity healthcare?

After all, someone who drinks soda and does a lot of exercise or hard work might not impose any cost on the health system - and someone who eats a lot of bacon or home-baked cakes might get obese without drinking any soda.


Obesity isn't strictly a lifestyle choice for everyone afflicted with it.

If you pay with a bank card or use a loyalty card that exists already.

As for the tax, it doesn't need to be applied at the point of sale, but can be further back in the chain.


Lots of people don't like diet soda and would stop drinking soda rather than switching to diet. The realistic outcome of heavy tax on sugary soda is a reduction in the amount of soda consumed. (Which I'd probably call a win, though obviously not a win-win.)

There will almost certainly be some reduction (unless soda becomes a Veblen good, which seems unlikely but not impossible) the question is how much the price elasticity is. I found a scientific paper[1] that suggest that under some ideal conditions I am not sure apply to reality a 10% tax means 10% less less consumption.

However what do they then consume? A switch from diet cola to juice would be bad from a sugar perspective and a switch to milk would be bad from a caloric perspective. Sparkling water is better from both perspectives but it is worse for your teeth than regular water [2] plain tea seems mixed [3] but realistically would you expect most people to switch to plain tea or tea with tons of sugar?

[1]: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1570677X15... [2]: http://www.today.com/health/sparkling-water-bad-your-teeth-d... [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_tea


Why not just drink water? Why does your drink need flavors? And anyway, the sparkling water will still be better for teeth than the soda. Don't let perfect get in the way of good.

Because it tastes better that way? Anyway the relevant question isn't why my drink needs flavour, but what the majority of those who choose to consume less soda with this proposed sugar tax will switch to. And remember they are doing it for economic reasons, not for health.

Sure, as long as you ignore all the costs of people cutting their soda consumption (e.g. costs to soda drinkers that have a healthy lifestyle, loss of utility from switching to a lower-valued activity, redirection of resources to substitutes).

But if you're going to make that assumption, just ban soda, since you no longer recognize any upsides to it.


My city attempted a large tax on sugary beverages only, but they ended up compromising with the opponents of the bill and implemented half the beverage tax on diet as well as sugary drinks. It seems like once the regulation for soft drinks is on the table, it's only a matter of time before diet sodas are included

Is diet soda really any better with regard to health? I was under the impression that the sweet taste without the calories causes problems with insulin or satiety or something (can't recall details).

There's some evidence that artificial sweeteners have a negative effect on the human gut[1].

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/artificial-sweete...


That is compared to water, not sugary drinks. People aren't drinking diet drinks as a replacement to water, they are drinking them as a replacement for sugary drinks.

That seems a weird compromise. Who is against a soda tax, but pro a tax on diet soda?

I would have thought most big soda manufacturers sell both, and even if you only sold non-diet soda, you think it would be easier to pivot to diet soda than push for legislation to raise it's price.


1. It's not as addictive as sugar 2. Significant number of people don't like diet sodas

3. Can cause gastrointestinal pain 4. Promotes overeating

5. Aftertaste reminiscent of something that would warrant a call to poison control

I have that reaction to all USian soda (am UKian) because of HFCS rather than straight up sugar. Honestly, to me, the diet stuff actually tastes slightly less awful.

Weirdly, diet Tropical Tango tastes better to me than the sugared version, possibly because its flavourings are so artificial already that the artificial sweetener fits better ... or possibly just because I'm weird.


Real-sugar soda variants in the US (we do have them! And not just imported Mexican coke!) usually come in glass which makes it harder to do a useful side-by-side tasting. I do prefer them, but I'm not sure how much of that's the glass. Meanwhile, I can tell instantly when I've accidentally tasted something with artificial sweetener in it. I've even picked it out from products that have real sugar but are supplemented with a bit of something artificial, waaaaay down the ingredient list, having no idea in advance that it'd be there.

[EDIT] I should add that I'd be surprised if the sugared variants typically have no difference to the HFCS sort other than subbing out the sweetener, so that's another wrinkle to attempting straight comparisons of sugar vs. HFCS


Any food can cause gastrointestinal pain. If you eat a lot of it :) Also any food that tastes good can be reasonable claimed to "promote overeating".

Doesn't regular soda fall into these categories, too?

There are numerous studies that link artificial sugar to overeating even when you account for the self-selection bias. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert, so you should evaluate their quality for yourself but the story goes something like this.

Your body uses some pretty basic heuristics in order to determine one, that you're full, and two that you're getting a sufficient caloric intake. Introducing high-volume, low-calorie foods into your diet isn't necessarily a problem, but your body will quickly determine that you need more volume to reach its caloric needs. Especially if you use diet soda / lite snacks to satisfy hunger. So when you mix 'diet' foodstuffs with normal food you will more than likely overeat on the high calorie foods leading to more weight gain.

This is where philosophy for the other dieting extreme comes from. If you normally eat extremely high-calorie/low-volume foods to satisfy hunger and put up with a grumbly stomach for a while you will adjust the other direction and under-eat on normal calorie foods, ideally leading to weight loss.


> There are numerous studies that link artificial sugar to overeating even when you account for the self-selection bias. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert, so you should evaluate their quality for yourself but the story goes something like this.

Sources? This is something I spent a bit of time looking into and the consensus at the time was there was no strong consensus.


Coke zero is actually quite nice.

I'm not a big fan of the metallic aspartame aftertaste.

The vast majority of people can't tell the difference in double blind taste tests, especially at the cold temperatures it's served at.

I reckon with properly blinded tests many people couldn't tell the difference between 7up and coke if you served it cold enough.


After drinking a lot of diet Coke & Dew because soda is free in my office and I don't want to be a fat ass, I actually prefer it to the regular stuff. The regular is too sticky and sickly.

That's what i also realized. it's still bad, but maybe a bit better than the sugary one.

> The soda industry has poured over $67 million into defeating state and local efforts to regulate soft drink sales in the United States since 2009, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

That seems like a very tiny amount compared to the profits we are looking at. I mean Let us say if you are focusing on 10 major US cities + DC then it is merely $6M per city. Isn't that too tiny an amount to get anything done ?


Political lobbying has some of the highest RoI a business can hope for. At a municipal level, a few hundred dollars can be sufficient to turn a councilor, get access to edit legislature as it is written, or just get your proposed legislature accepted as verbatim.

If the local media doesn't make a stink of it, you'll get away with it, too.


> get access to edit legislature as it is written

In the US most legislation is already written by the lobbyists themselves.


... Because they have access. Through lobbying. It's not a state of nature.

They are probably aware of the pending shift in attitudes with diet sodas, ie more people becoming aware of [1] that they realize that regulation of sodas will lead to regulations of diet sodas a few short years later.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/09/08/the-awful-truth...


1. the soda industry poured over...

2. I was just listening to a Stuff you should know on artificial sweeteners, and it seems that there's some downsides to diet sodas as well. One example was that the non-calorie sweetener reduced the body/brain's relation between sweetness and calories. This causes the body not to recognize other sweet things (full sugar drinks/candy, carbs, etc) as caloric.


$67M is probably a drop in the bucket for them.

It's definitely a drop in the bucket.. The combined revenue for PepsiCo and CocaCola is over $100 billion per year.

$10 million/year fighting against soda taxes represents 0.01% of their revenue. I'd be surprised if they were only spending $10m/year.


1) The relevant metric is net income not revenue (that's what at stake for them)

2) Those figures are worldwide, not just for Mexico.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised it's not Coke and Pepsi directly behind the spying, but FEMSA and other bottlers. After all, why would Coke risk its huge brand when the bottlers, who have as much as stake, are Mexican, and are thus better to "influence things over there"


These taxes often include taxes on sugar-free versions too.

They do both.

What the heck is "government-grade" spyware? 3X the cost but doesn't work?

I would assume they're referring to spyware that's sophisticated enough that it was likely state-sponsored, a la stuxnet, as states usually are the only entities with the resources to develop spyware of that level.

Pretty sure the author means that NSO Group's primary customers are government agencies.

That said it's still more of a buzzword than a qualification.


I don't buy that for a minute. There are so many amazing developers out there who could absolutely do this independently.

Capable of writing the code, yes I agree there are others out there more than capable. But part of what makes stuxnet and others of its kind limited to Govt. sponsored is the amount of funding required to do the research to write the code. Very few malware developers are going to go purchase a Siemens nuclear refining centrifuge (plus controlling equipment) so they may reverse engineer it and figure out how to break it. Someone had to buy one, then realize if you stop it suddenly enough times it will break.

What kind of features are included in government sponsored spyware vs the regular kind?

One or more Zero-Day exploits

Don't forget, only runs on IE.

IE 8 that is

"Government-grade spyware" reminded me of the deleted scene from Napoleon Dynamite.

"Do you want to die Napoleon?"

"Yeah right. Whose the only one here who knows illegal ninja moves from the government."

https://youtu.be/IdAZJNEYuEs?t=20s


I wonder if somebody with a bone to pick with a soda tax works in a bureau that has access to this weaponized malware. Seems like the most plausible case to me.

More plausible to me is that someone in the Sugar Industrial Complex bribed someone in a bureau that has access to this malware.



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