Lawyer takes on Google, Facebook, Twitter over terror videos

A lawyer who earned his degree through a correspondence course and works for a company called 1-800-LAW-FIRM may seem like an odd choice to lead a series of potentially precedent-setting lawsuits against some of the world’s most powerful social media companies.

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But judging Keith Altman by his resume would be underestimating the 49-year-old lawyer and his quest to make tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google liable for allegedly providing “material support” to followers of terror groups who commit mass murder.

“These cases seem impossible but they can have a real impact,” Altman told Fox News. “This is about holding these companies accountable for allowing terrorists to radicalize people through social media channels.”

Altman’s ambitious effort to take on the social media giants has been dismissed by some legal experts but others say the lawsuits have potential to shake up the industry and force major changes.

A woman stands at a makeshift shrine to honor Whittier High School alumna Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the Paris terror attack last week, during a candlelight vigil in Whittier, California November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn - GF20000064180

A woman stands at a makeshift shrine to honor Whittier High School alumna Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the Paris terror attack last week, during a candlelight vigil in Whittier, California November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn – GF20000064180

Starting in June 2016 while representing the family of Nohemi Gonzalez – the only American killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks – and drawing on his previous experience taking on pharmaceutical giants, Altman has filed six lawsuits to date. In the suits, Altman claims that Google, Facebook and Twitter have allowed their social media platforms to be used as a tool to recruit jihadists and that these companies have even profited from advertisements on terrorist propaganda.

Besides the Gonzalez family, Altman represents families of victims from terror attacks in Dallas, San BernardinoIstanbul, Barcelona and those killed at during the shooting at the Orlando nightclub last June.

“I filed that suit at 5 p.m. and had my first date with my now fiancee an hour later,” Altman said. “For the first half of the date, I was being bombarded with calls from every news organization you can think of to make a comment.”

At the heart of all these lawsuits is the interpretation of a provision tucked deep inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230.

The language of Section 230 states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Companies like Facebook and YouTube have interpreted that to mean they are not liable for what their users post on their sites.

“Section 230 is a free pass to online service providers as long as they act only as a pass-through,” Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University Of Buffalo School Of Law, told Fox News. “If you set up a place for people to talk, but don’t communicate on it yourself, then you are basically immune from prosecution.”

Section 230 of the CDA was implemented to help protect social media sites in their nascent years. But Altman and others have begun to argue that social media sites may be violating the provision with their heavily guarded algorithms and that these companies have the resources to monitor any terror activity on their platforms.

Altman – who before going into law developed litigation support tools and trial presentation software – said that computer programs can be developed that can filter certain key words like jihad and ISIS, shut down suspicious accounts and look out for accounts that send out mass follow and friend requests – all telltale signs of terror propaganda.

“Give me a weekend and I could write programs that do all of these things and more,” he said. “So how can these guys say with a straight face that they can’t do it?”

A spokesperson for Facebook told Fox News that the social media site does not allow any terrorist activity on its website.

“We are committed to providing a service where people feel safe when using Facebook,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us.”

A representatives from Twitter told Fox News the company does not comment on pending legislation. Google did not immediately reply to Fox News’ request for comment.

Altman is realistic about his and his client’s chances of succeeding in court, but says the real battle is going to take place in appellate courts and possibly even the Supreme Court.

The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017.   REUTERS/Thomas White - RC13B0FC4740

The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White – RC13B0FC4740

“If we win just one of these cases it is going to be like an atomic bomb went off at these social media companies,” he said.

Experts in social media law don’t disagree with Altman that a victory for any his clients would create a massive sea change in the tech world, but note that it will be a tough fight to get courts to rule against Section 230.

“It sounds like a good idea, but when you get down into the weeds it get complicated,” Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton and author of “Social Media in the Courtroom: A New Era for Criminal Justice?” told Fox News.

Hoffmeister says questions like how to define terrorist activity, how far does the censorship go and how do you differentiate between domestic and international terrorism are just a few of the roadblocks that Altman’s lawsuits could run into.

Whether or not any of Altman’s lawsuits are successful, experts contend that, at the very least, they are bringing light to the issue and creating a conversation that might force companies to be held more accountable.

“When he starts rattling the saber, it makes companies take action and do something about it,” Hoffmeister said. “These lawsuits add fuel to the fire.”

Courtesy: Fox News

Google Gets Rid of Infected Android Apps After Millions Download Malware

Smartphone HTC Desire
HTC Desire smartphone isolated on steel background showing Google search. Michal Rojek—Getty Images

2:14 PM ET

Millions of Android users may have malware on their phones costing them extra money after they unwittingly downloaded infected apps from the GooglePlay Store.

At least 50 apps in the store contained malware, according to researchers at Check Point, a security company. The apps have now been removed, but the malware was downloaded between 1 million and 4.2 million times before Google kicked the apps out of its store, Check Point said Thursday.

The malware — nicknamed “ExpensiveWall” — came hidden in free wallpaper, video and photo editing apps, as CNET first reported. Once people downloaded the apps, the virus would register them for paid services without their knowledge or send text messages that users would have to pay for.

ExpensiveWall is similar to a kind of malware that McAfee found on Google Play in January. The whole “malware family” has now been downloaded between 5.9 million and 21.1 million times, according to Check Point.

Google Play has built-in anti-malware protections, but the apps in question got past those because the malware was “packed,” an advance hiding technique, according to Check Point.

Once Check Point told Google about its findings on Aug. 7, the tech giant acted quickly to remove the apps. But a few days later, malware again infected another 5,000 devices, Check Point said, before it was removed a second time.

“We’ve removed these apps from Play and always appreciate the research community’s efforts to help keep the Android ecosystem safe,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.

If users still have any of the infected apps on their phone, though, the malware is still there, so the apps need to be removed manually.

Courtesy, TIME

Google employee’s anti-diversity manifesto prompts torrent of responses, sparks wider debate

Christopher Carbone

An anonymous note accusing Google of embracing diversity while chilling intellectual freedom has unleashed a flood of divergent opinions and proves not everyone inside the tech giant toes the company line.

The 10-page memo, written by a male engineer and widely shared internally, was eventually leaked to Gizmodo. In it, the author slams the tech giant’s “left bias” for having created a “politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

The engineer, who has not been identified publicly, argues that gender disparities in Google’s workforce can be explained by biological differences between men and women. The memo asserts Google should replace its existing diversity efforts with policies to allow for more “ideological diversity.”

In a recent annual report the company made public, 69% of Google’s employees were revealed as male and 55% of its employees were white.

Reaction to the memo, pro and con, has been vehement.

“From what I’ve seen it’s been a mix of women saying, ‘This is terrible and it’s been distracting me from my work and it shouldn’t be allowed;’ Men and women saying ‘this is horrible but we need to let him have a voice;’ and men saying ‘This is so brave, I agree,’” one current Google employee told Motherboard.

The company’s VP for Diversity, Integrity and Governance, Danielle Brown, swiftly rebuked the anonymous engineer’s memo:

“Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

According to Motherboard, some employees wrote messages of support for the memo’s author, including this one:

“The fella who posted that is extremely brave. We need more people standing up against the insanity. Otherwise ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ which is essentially a pipeline from Women’s and African Studies into Google, will ruin the company,” another comment in the thread said.

The company’s diversity chief also addressed Google’s perceived lack of ideological diversity:

“We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company,” Brown wrote. “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

The memo also led a range of current and former tech employees to tweet, pen their own essays and call out the engineer who wrote it.

Christopher Carbone is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.

Courtesy, Fox News

China’s internet crackdown reaches new level of restriction

Foreign VPNs have been removed from China’s Apple stores, WhatsApp messages are being filtered and a massive censorship campaign scrubbed social media of Liu Xiaobo. What is happening to the Chinese web?

China Beijing - Google zensiert in China (Imago/ZUMA Press)

Beijing’s censors are busy adding more bricks to the “Great Firewall of China” – a popular term for the widespread use of online censorship in the country run by the Communist Party.

Over the weekend, Apple confirmed that it had removed foreign Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from Apple online stores in accordance with Chinese government regulations passed in January stipulating that all VPNs in China require a government license.


Have you ever wondered if your government monitors what you do on your smartphone? If you lived in China, this would be an every-day Orwellian reality. (31.03.2017)

VPNs redirect a user’s online activity through another network and permit access to restricted web content. Without using a VPN, internet users in mainland China cannot access many foreign websites like Facebook. Critics have accused Apple of bending to pressure from the Chinese government.

“Our preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS have been removed,” ExpressVPN, a major VPN provider in China, wrote in a statement released Saturday.

“We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts,” it added.

Read: Apple deletes New York Times apps in China

“We received notice of Apple’s removal of VPN apps around 4:00 am GMT on July 29, 2017 through iTunes Connect, which is Apple’s tool for developers who have made apps available for download through the App Store,” an ExpressVPN spokesperson told DW in a written statement.

“ExpressVPN remains focused on ensuring users can continue to connect securely and reliably, no matter where they are located. Users in China can continue to stay connected to the open internet with ExpressVPN’s apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and other platforms,” the spokesperson stated.

“Those in China wishing to connect with iPhones or iPads can download the ExpressVPN iOS app from a different country’s App Store – they simply need to register an additional App Store account with a billing address in a country of their choice, with no corresponding payment method needed.”

Without the use of VPNs, most of the internet will be off-limits to China, home to the world’s largest number of internet users. Apple also recently announced it would be building a data center in China to comply with new cybersecurity laws.

The restriction on VPNs is the latest in a series of internet curtailments that have been rolled out by Beijing in only the past month. One of the most glaring cases followed the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on July 13. It was widely reported that Chinese censors actively blocked any discussion of Liu on Chinese social media.

Screenshot von Citzienlab Kanada - Zensur von Liu Xiaobo auf WeChat in China ( screenshot from WeChat in Canada and China showing Liu removed from the Chinese device

Forced compliance 

The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto,analyzed the censorship of commemorating Liu, both on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, and the Weibo search engine.

Their findings showed that censors are increasing the breadth of censorship, even blocking images in one-on-one and group chats for the first time, in addition to filtering text messaging.

Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Research Manager at the Citizen Lab, told DW that social media companies operating in China must follow strict content regulations.

“It’s important to understand how censorship of social media works in China. Companies are held responsible for content on their platforms and are expected to dedicate resources to ensure compliance or face penalties,” he said.

“The government effectively offloads the responsibility for content control to the private sector, creating a system of ‘self-discipline.'”

Crete-Nishihata added that research has shown that social media companies have flexibility in deciding how to implement official controls.

“This situation leaves companies in a balancing act between growing their business and attracting users, all the while staying within the lines set by the government,” he said. “Social media platforms in China generally block content through a combination of automated filters and review teams that manually inspect content.”

Watch video00:47

China goes all out censoring online reaction to Xiaobo death

Danger of dissidence

In the case of commemorating Liu Xiaobo, Citizen Lab was able to determine that censors were working in real time to filter out all mention of Liu’s name and legacy from WeChat, the most popular messaging platform in China with an estimated 889 million monthly users.

“The death of Liu marks a particularly critical moment for the Communist Party of China,” said Crete-Nishihata, pointing out that the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests grew out of a public mourning of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party general secretary who had been purged after falling out of favor with powerful party officials.

“Like Hu, Liu was a popular symbol of political reform and freedom, and his death could potentially rally the public to mourn or cause embarrassment to the authorities,” added the expert.

“While it is not known what specific directives may have been sent down from the government, given the high sensitivity of Liu’s death, it is likely companies received instructions on how to handle it or may have proactively sought out official guidance.”

Apple’s capitulation to China’s VPN crack-down will return to haunt it at home 

Photo published for Apple’s capitulation to China’s VPN crack-down will…

Apple’s capitulation to China’s VPN crack-down will…

Yesterday Apple removed all major VPN apps from its App Store in the country. These VPNs aided internet users there to get around the government’s vast system of censorship and access uncensored…

No app is safe

Shortly after commemoration of Liu’s passingwas scrubbed from the Chinese web, WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, experienced disruptions in service for the first time. Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, but WhatsApp has been able to function in the country. But on July 18, it was reported that WhatsApp users in China could no longer receive photos and videos. Text messages were still getting through.

Experts told the Associated Press that it appeared China was blanket blocking all video and photo content because they could not selectively block content as they did on Chinese-based WeChat.

Crete-Nishihata from Citizen Lab said that there was no evidence of WhatsApp cooperating with the Chinese government for content filtering. “WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, meaning that messages are only readable to the users in a conversation,” said the expert. “WhatsApp services being disrupted in China appears to have been done by WhatsApp servers being blocked by China’s national web filtering system.”

Read:Winnie-the-Pooh banned in China for resembling the president

Clean-up before the congress

Experts also point to the upcoming 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress as a reason behind Beijing’s ramped-up control of online information and communication.

For example, before and during the last party congress in 2012, there was an increase in online censorship, including a blockade on Google and Western media websites.

“The upcoming party congress is another example of an event that is sensitive to the Communist Party of China,” said Crete-Nishihata. “It is likely that in the lead up to the party congress we will see tightened restrictions and blocking of content related to party leaders, especially Xi Jinping and anything that may be perceived as harming his reputation.”




  • Date 01.08.2017
  • Author Wesley Rahn
  • Related Subjects FacebookGoogleAsiaPeople’s Republic of China
  • Keywords Asia, China, China censorship, Social Media, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google, Chinese Communist Party Congress, Liu Xiaobo
  • Courtesy: DW

The world’s most valuable brands in 2017

Charli Crosby, 5, points to a doll in the window of an American Girl store at The Grove mall in Los Angeles November 26, 2013. This year, Black Friday starts earlier than ever, with some retailers opening early on Thanksgiving evening. About 140 million people were expected to shop over the four-day weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) - RTX15UG2

Mapped … eight of the top 10 brands on Brand Finance’s 2017 list are from the United States
Image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
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For the last five years, Apple held on to the title of the world’s most valuable brand. Then this year, the iPhone maker lost the top spot to Google, according to consultancy Brand Finance’s Global 500 rankings.

As Apple’s brand value tumbled 27% to $107.1 billion in 2016, Google’s increased to $109.5 billion. Amazon, with 53% brand value growth, was close behind at $106.4 billion.

Image: Brand Finance Global 500 2017

Eight of the top 10 brands on Brand Finance’s 2017 list are American, reflecting the global dominance of US brands.

So where does this leave the rest of the world?

Visualizing brands as countries

Using Brand Finance’s ranking, cost information website has taken the most valuable brands in selected countries and turned them into a map. Each country is sized to reflect the global value of its biggest brand.

After Google, the next most valuable national brand is South Korea’s Samsung, which is in sixth place on the Global 500 list at $66.2 billion. Then it’s Chinese bank ICBC, ranked 10th, with a brand value of $47.8 billion.


Car-makers Toyota (Japan) and BMW (Germany) are next, with brand values of $46.3 billion and $37.1 billion, respectively. Shell, the multinational oil and gas company based in the Netherlands, also features prominently, at $36.8 billion.

The top brands of most countries, however, are worth less than $25 billion. Across Latin America, the most valuable brand is Mexican energy company Pemex, at $8.5 billion. In Asia, it’s India’s Tata conglomerate, at $12.9 billion. No African brands appear on the map.

The world’s most powerful brands

Lego may have a relatively modest $7.6 billion brand value, but when it comes to sheer power Denmark’s biggest brand punches well above its weight.

Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index (BSI) awards brands a mark out of 100. Lego gets high scores across a range of metrics such as familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation.

Image: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

The colour-coding on the map indicates brand strength, with Lego and Google (the most powerful brands) in dark blue. Many well-known brands including Samsung, BMW, Shell, Ikea and Nestle are on the next rung down, in light blue.

With marks ranging between 70 and 80, market-leading brands including Santander, Tata and Vodafone, are in pink. Only two top national brands, Taiwan Semiconductor and Thailand’s PTT, coloured red, have scores of less than 70.

German leaders to meet after May Brexit speech

Top German leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, will meet after British Prime Minister Theresa May confirms that she will seek a “hard” Brexit. The focus will be on strategy for tough upcoming negotiations.

Watch video01:06

Theresa May comes out in favor of “hard Brexit”

Germany’s political elite will come to together on Wednesday to discuss the future now that it has been confirmed that Britain will seek a near complete divorce from the European Union. In a major speechon the so-called Brexit on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that her country would leave the European common market, control immigration from the bloc, withdraw from EU legal jurisdiction and no longer pay “vast sums of money” to Brussels.

PM Theresa May sets out 12 negotiating priorities for as part of the Plan for Britain after leaving the EU: 

In a statement immediately after May’s address, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister had “finally brought a bit more clarity on Britain’s plans.” He also characterized May’s statement that Britain wanted a “positive and constructive partnership with a strong EU” as “good.”

FM : We welcome that @theresa_may finally outlined her ideas and that she created more clarity about UK plans.

But he also stressed solidarity among the EU’s other 27 members and said no Brexit negotiations would commence just yet.

“Our position remains that negotiation will first begin when Britain officially declares its wish to leave,” Steinmeier said. “We will be discussing Germany’s position toward the upcoming negotiations in the cabinet’s Brexit committee tomorrow. It’s in Germany and Europe’s interest to strengthen the solidarity of the 27-state European Union and preserve the unity of the European single market.”

It will be the first-ever meeting of the committee, which includes Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and several government ministers.

A clean break, no cherry-picking

In her speech in London, May held out the prospect of seeking the “greatest possible access to the single market” and “a bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the European Union. But she also said it was a priority to trade with other parts of the globe.

The prime minister’s speech reflected a new reality to which policy-makers must now get accustomed 

Photo published for Countdown to 2019: Theresa May confirms: Britain is heading for Brexit Max | The Economist

Countdown to 2019: Theresa May confirms: Britain is heading for Brexit Max | The Economist

Britain will leave the single market and the customs union

“We want to get out into the wider world,” said May. She invoked US president-elect Donald Trump’s statement that Britain was “not at the back of the queue, but the front of the line” in terms of bilateral trade agreements with America. And she warned the EU against seeking a “punitive” deal allowing Britain to leave the the bloc.

The chairman of Germany’s parliamentary committee, conservative Norbert Röttgen, seemed to endorse that idea, although not without a swipe in London’s direction.

“We shouldn’t play the role of the rebuffed partner and make demands that the people of Britain can’t fulfill,” Röttgen said in a newspaper interview. “We should be more rational than they are.”

But German parliamentarians also emphasize that Britain won’t be allowed to pick and choose which parts of the EU it which wants and doesn’t want.

“If someone wants a clear break, she should get it,” Social Democratic parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann said in Berlin. “We’re prepared to go along with that. But it can’t be that anyone picks out individual cherries.”

German businesses relaxed

According to a survey carried out by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research published last week, nine-tenths of German companies don’t expect serious negative effects from Brexit. Around one-third said the declining value of the pound could have some negative effect on their business.

Ahead of May’s speech, the pound declined to a near-record low of under 1.14 against the euro; it was trading at around 1.30 prior to the referendum, and higher still in 2015. The pound’s plunge against dollar has been even more precipitous, although the British currency did regain about two percent of its value during May’s speech.

Infografik Wechselkurs Pfund Vergleich Dollar Euro ENG

Surprisingly, one quarter of the 2,900 firms surveyed thought that their business might actually improve if Britain left the EU.

“There seems to be an expectation that if trade restrictions are put in place, then companies that have previously purchased in Britain will look elsewhere,” Jürgen Matthes, the economist responsible for the study told Deutsche Welle.

But Matthes also said that a “hard” and “soft” Brexit were not absolute concepts and that the UK could potentially negotiate limited agreements with the EU.

“If they were to conclude a free-trade agreement with significant exemptions from customs duties, that would be relatively free trade, at least with industrial goods.” Matthes said. That seems to be what Mrs. May means.”

What happens next

Brexit Befürworter vor dem Parlamentsgebäude in London (imago/ZUMA Press)Brexit supports are calling on parliament to invoke Article 50 soon

The British parliament must now vote to formally invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon before Britain can leave the bloc. This would set off a negotiating period slated to last two years.

On the European side, any eventual agreement on Britain’s exit from the EU has to be approved by a 55 percent majority of member states representing at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population. The European Parliament also has to approve any deal.

The remaining 27 member states are set to meet on February 3, 2017 in Malta to discuss the modalities of the Brexit and what the post-Britain EU will look like.

May said that any final deal between the EU and Britain would be put to a vote in both houses of the British parliament for approval.

.@NicolaSturgeon on Theresa May’s speech: “The Tory Government cannot be allowed to act against Scotland’s wishes”.

If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement and the deadline is not extended, all EU treaties with Britain would be automatically nullified – the hardest sort of Brexit.



How We Fool Ourselves on Russia

The Russian flag flying at the annual International Military-Technical Forum in Kubinka, west of Moscow.CreditSergei Ilnitsky/European Pressphoto Agency

In the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War, profound grievances, misperceptions and disappointments have often defined the relationship between the United States and Russia. I lived through this turbulence during my years as a diplomat in Moscow, navigating the curious mix of hope and humiliation that I remember so vividly in the Russia of Boris N. Yeltsin, and the pugnacity and raw ambition of Vladimir V. Putin’s Kremlin. And I lived through it in Washington, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.

There have been more than enough illusions on both sides. The United States has oscillated between visions of an enduring partnership with Moscow and dismissing it as a sulking regional power in terminal decline. Russia has moved between notions of a strategic partnership with the United States and a later, deeper desire to upend the current international order, where a dominant United States consigns Russia to a subordinate role.

The reality is that our relationship with Russia will remain competitive, and often adversarial, for the foreseeable future. At its core is a fundamental disconnect in outlook and about each other’s role in the world.

It is tempting to think that personal rapport can bridge this disconnect and that the art of the deal can unlock a grand bargain. That is a foolish starting point for sensible policy. It would be especially foolish to think that Russia’s deeply troubling interference in our election can or should be played down, however inconvenient.

President Putin’s aggressive election meddling, like his broader foreign policy, has at least two motivating factors. The first is his conviction that the surest path to restoring Russia as a great power comes at the expense of an American-led order. He wants Russia unconstrained by Western values and institutions, free to pursue a sphere of influence.

The second motivating factor is closely connected to the first. The legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s system of repressive domestic control depends on the existence of external threats. Surfing on high oil prices, he used to be able to bolster his social contract with the Russian people through rising standards of living. That was clear in the boomtown Moscow I knew as the American ambassador a decade ago, full of the promise of a rising middle class and the consumption of an elite convinced that anything worth doing was worth overdoing. But Mr. Putin has lost that card in a world of lower energy prices and Western sanctions, and with a one-dimensional economy in which real reform is trumped by the imperative of political control and the corruption that lubricates it.

The ultimate realist, Mr. Putin understands Russia’s relative weakness, but regularly demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers. He sees a target-rich environment all around him.

If he can’t easily build Russia up, he can take the United States down a few pegs, with his characteristic tactical agility and willingness to play rough and take risks. If he can’t have a deferential government in Kiev, he can grab Crimea and try to engineer the next best thing, a dysfunctional Ukraine. If he can’t abide the risk of regime upheaval in Syria, he can flex Russia’s military muscle, emasculate the West, and preserve Bashar al-Assad atop the rubble of Aleppo. If he can’t directly intimidate the European Union, he can accelerate its unraveling by supporting anti-Union nationalists and exploiting the wave of migration spawned in part by his own brutality. Wherever he can, he exposes the seeming hypocrisy and fecklessness of Western democracies, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

So what to do? Russia is still too big, proud and influential to ignore and still the only nuclear power comparable to the United States. It remains a major player on problems from the Arctic to Iran and North Korea. We need to focus on the critical before we test the desirable. The first step is to sustain, and if necessary amplify, the actions taken by the Obama administration in response to Russian hacking. Russia challenged the integrity of our democratic system, and Europe’s 2017 electoral landscape is the next battlefield.

A second step is to reassure our European allies of our absolute commitment to NATO. American politicians tell one another to “remember your base,” and that’s what should guide policy toward Russia. Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.

A third step is to stay sharply focused on Ukraine, a country whose fate will be critical to the future of Europe, and Russia, over the next generation. This is not about NATO or European Union membership, both distant aspirations. It is about helping Ukrainian leaders build the successful political system that Russia seeks to subvert.

Finally, we should be wary of superficially appealing notions like a common war on Islamic extremism or a common effort to “contain” China. Russia’s bloody role in Syria makes the terrorist threat far worse and despite long-term concerns about a rising China, Mr. Putin has little inclination to sacrifice a relationship with Beijing.

I’ve learned a few lessons during my diplomatic career, often the hard way. I learned to respect Russians and their history and vitality. I learned that it rarely pays to neglect or underestimate Russia, or display gratuitous disrespect. But I also learned that firmness and vigilance, and a healthy grasp of the limits of the possible, are the best way to deal with the combustible combination of grievance and insecurity that Vladimir Putin embodies. I’ve learned that we have a much better hand to play with Mr. Putin than he does with us. If we play it methodically, confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values, we can eventually build a more stable relationship, without illusions.

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