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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Fallacies of Argument @stratfor

If it is true that one should ignore, or at least sharply discount, the views of those who supported the war in Iraq but are now dissatisfied with the proposed Iran nuclear agreement, what do we do with those people, of whom I am one, who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq but also support the Iran nuclear agreement?

Fallacies of Argument

By Philip Bobbitt

In these columns, I will offer general observations on the relationships between strategy, history and law with an eye to showing how we might strengthen our geostrategic analyses. Occasionally I will introduce an exemplary case. But I am not so much interested in trying to convert my readers to my prescriptions as I am anxious to offer ideas and approaches that I think are helpful in thinking about contemporary issues. A grasp of unfamiliar ideas such as "Parmenides' Fallacy," the "triage of terror," an "epochal war" — or even the familiar notion of "loss aversion" in the unfamiliar context of grand strategy — can be useful in framing a debate and assessing its merits even when the debaters share little in the way of partisan preferences.

Nevertheless, I sometimes come across a point of view that goads me into abandoning my customary forbearance. One such case is the outrage one often encounters that decries the allegedly lenient treatment given senior officials who are accused of leaking classified information when whistleblowers — as they describe themselves — like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden or Jeffrey Sterling are prosecuted or threatened with prosecution, should they enter U.S. jurisdiction. This complaint, usually served with a garnish of resentment that establishment figures are being favored over "the little guy" (a description one can scarcely imagine Assange, Snowden or Sterling applying to himself), will doubtless make a new appearance in the aftermath of the investigations into former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of her emails. I am here giving warning that when it does, I may well write about the persistent attention to what seems to me to be a non-issue (Clinton's email habits) as contrasted with the lack of moral concern about paying or otherwise rewarding persons for the theft and exposure of national secrets.

But this time some other absurdity has inflamed me. In my defense, I note that it is part of a much larger pattern of substituting the characterization of a person — or her role — for argument. One sees it all the time. Suppose a scientist submits experimental evidence that can be used to discredit a proposed regulation — let's say e-cigarettes don't lead to the adoption of tobacco addiction and in fact are a potent method of breaking such dependence. And then suppose it is revealed that the scientist's work has been funded by a corporation that sells e-cigarettes. One can easily imagine the mockery of the experimental results on the grounds that they simply must be contaminated by the experiment's source of funding. Or imagine a lawyer who submits testimony tending to persuade Congress that a trade agreement is likely to spur employment growth in the United States rather than cause a net loss of jobs. It's not hard to guess the reaction when it is revealed that the lawyer is a lobbyist for the International Chamber of Commerce. We all know that these revelations aren't really arguments. But we can't seem to help feeling that a position is tainted if it is revealed to be associated in some way with an interested party.

The Guise of Accountability

The example that set me off is an extreme version of this logical fallacy, sometimes called the argumentum ad hominem circumstantial. It occurred in an essay on the proposed Iranian nuclear agreement that begins, "Without commenting on the ins and outs of the arcana of the Iran nuclear deal, it may be instructive to examine the issue of accountability that surrounds it." The essay then proceeded to quote U.S. President Barack Obama's observation in his American University address last week that "many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran deal." There are two points being made here, and both are insidious.

One is that it is necessary to hold our leaders "accountable" for their alleged mistakes by ignoring their arguments in a current debate in favor of reminding them, and us, of the errors they have made in the past. This is not an argument about the merits — the "arcana" — of a proposed treaty or statute but rather an effort to dispense with such hard work in favor of embarrassing the people with whom one disagrees. Its claim of retribution or payback — "accountability" — for past actions is in fact merely a forensic weapon in a present debate.

The second point is a simple logical one. If it is true that one should ignore, or at least sharply discount, the views of those who supported the war in Iraq but are now dissatisfied with the proposed Iran nuclear agreement, what do we do with those people, of whom I am one, who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq but also support the Iran nuclear agreement? This group includes the vice president, the current secretary of state and his predecessor, who is also the likely Democratic nominee for president, among others. Are we to hold them accountable by depriving ourselves of their assessments, too? What sort of accountability is that? Suppose that more congressmen who support the Iran agreement also supported the Iraq invasion than the number who support the agreement but did not support the invasion; should this really militate against the agreement on "accountability" grounds? Because those numbers are exactly what the White House is hoping for if it is to have a chance of sustaining the president's veto.

Finally, this lurid smokescreen obscures (if it does not reflect a total obliviousness of) the most fundamental issue that unites the decision for regime change in Iraq and the decision to seek an accommodation with Iran: the denuclearization of the region. It is inconceivable that Iran would ever have agreed even to discuss the sidelining of its nuclear ambitions if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Baghdad. And it is similarly impossible to envision a day when the region is confident enough of the non-nuclear ambitions of Iraq and Iran that Israel — with the right set of guarantees, sophisticated weapons and other assurances — would be able to bring about that policy which its beleaguered populace, when polled regularly, endorses: the standing down of its nuclear force.

Perhaps I may be forgiven this foray into a contemporary dispute if I offer up one of my favorite moments from the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, though resolutely fixed on the most fundamental philosophical problems, lost his temper with his good friend Norman Malcolm over a discussion about the notion of "national character." Six years after the disagreement, Wittgenstein wrote Malcolm:

"I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any ... journalist in the use of the dangerous phrases such people use for their own ends. You see, I know that it's difficult to think well about 'certainty,' 'probability,' perception,' etc. But it is, if possible, still more difficult to think, or try to think, really honestly about your life and other people's lives. And the trouble is that thinking about these things is not thrilling, but often downright nasty. And when it's nasty then it's most important."  
"Fallacies of Argument is republished with permission of Stratfor."

-- The MasterFeeds

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Latin Spring? @ISAIntelligence

Will the political unrest in #LatinAmerica lead to a "Latin Spring"? An interesting analysis from ISA. 

25 August
ISA News
A Latin Spring?
Crime, Corruption and a Weak Economy
Taking it to the Streets
In recent months, the combination of a number of major corruption scandals and a sharp economic downturn has led to an increase in political unrest across Latin America. This has resulted in massive street protests and strikes in many countries in the region, leading some experts to proclaim that the region is on the verge of a "Latin Spring", much like the popular protests that brought down corrupt governments in the Middle East and East Europe in recent years. With the outlook for the region's economy worsening thanks to the economic downturn in China, the potential for even higher levels of political unrest in the near future is great and this could result in a series of major political changes across Latin America.
Corruption at the Highest Level
From Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south, most Latin American countries are plagued by high levels of crime and corruption. The northern half of Latin America (including Mexico, Central America, Venezuela and the Caribbean) suffers from some of the highest murder rates in the world, while Brazil's largest cities are also plagued by dangerously high levels of crime. Meanwhile, corruption has long been a problem in Latin America, but recent scandals in the region have reached to the highest levels of government, resulting in popular outrage in many countries in the region. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Brazil, where the ongoing Petrobras scandal has implicated a number of current and former government leaders and has resulted in President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating falling to less than 10%. Altogether, crime and corruption are spiraling out of control in much of Latin America, despite the fact that nearly all of the region's political leaders have been popularly elected in relatively free and fair elections.
Economic Troubles
There is also an economic element to the popular unrest that is growing in Latin America. A few years ago, much of Latin America was recording relatively high rates of economic growth, thanks to soaring demand for the region's natural resources in China and other large emerging markets. However, a downturn in demand in these key export markets, coupled with the weakness of the region's domestic markets, has resulted in a serious economic slump across Latin America in recent years. Moreover, many governments in the region have failed to enact policies that would improve their countries' economic competitiveness and this has resulted in a lack of foreign investment and economic diversification, key factors in the region's current slump. As a result, the region's economy, with a few exceptions, has failed to develop many high-growth manufacturing and service industries that are needed to ensure higher rates of economic growth over the longer-term and to compete in a highly competitive global economy.
Little Faith in Democracy
It remains to be seen if the massive street protests that have been taking place in countries such as Brazil, Venezuela and others will spark major political changes in the region. Unlike in the Middle East, Latin America holds relatively free and fair elections and voters in the region have had the ability to oust unpopular leaders and governments at the ballot box. However, elections in Latin America have largely been dominated by personalities rather than political parties and this has led to a political system that can change dramatically with the emergence (or disappearance) of individual leaders. Moreover, this access to democracy has done little to reduce crime and corruption in the region, nor to boost the region's economic fortunes. As a result, an increasing number of people in the region are disillusioned with their democratic systems and this could lead to the rise of more extreme political movements on both the right and left of the political spectrum in the coming years. This would prove to be a major step back for Latin America and a major deterrent to the region's economic development, to the detriment of the region's 600 million inhabitants.

ISA publishes a range of reports and forecasts that are utilized by many of the world's leading businesses, universities and government bodies to to help them to better understanding international markets.  These include:
  • ISA Country Reports
  • ISA Economic Forecasts
  • ISA Risk Forecasts
  • ISA Region Reports
  • Customized research from ISA

To learn more about how your organization can benefit from ISA's international research products, contact us today. 

ISA - International Strategic Analysis | 31 Scheiffeschgaard | Canach | L-5413 | Luxembourg

Monday, August 24, 2015

#Venezuela: Failed states are not confined to a the Middle East & Africa @DLansberg

Venezuela's neighbours will feel its pain -

Venezuela's neighbours will feel its pain

Human cost: A father and daughter rest while someone holds their place in a food queue in San Cristobal, Venezuela, amid shortages of basic goods©Getty

Human cost: A father and daughter rest while someone holds their place in a food queue in San Cristobal, Venezuela, amid shortages of basic goods

In 1812, scarcely a year into Venezuela's independence, an earthquake leveled Caracas, spurring panicked survivors to expel the republican army and return the colony to Spanish rule. Simón Bolívar remained unbowed: "If nature opposes us," the revolutionary leader declared, "we shall fight nature and force her to obey us." Two centuries later, the new "revolutionary" government that has co-opted Bolívar's name has also adopted his obdurate attitude, while perhaps eschewing other qualities — adaptability, diplomacy, competence — that allowed him eventually to reconquer Caracas and liberate five other Andean nations.

Despite an economy in free fall, harrowing shortages of medicines and foodstuffs, rock-bottom oil prices, nearly depleted foreign exchange reserves, and the worst inflation on earth, the government of Nicolás Maduro has steadfastly refused to come up with even the most rudimentary policy response. The currency remains officially pegged at over 100 times the black market rate and untenable subsidies keep domestic petrol prices at pennies on the gallon. The government has even failed to introduce larger bill denominations, leaving Venezuelans with a currency that tops out at a ludicrous $0.15.

As Bolivarian tenacity has devolved into a self-destructive political paralysis, if not a complete break with reality, the country is fast on its way to becoming a failed state. Indeed, by some metrics — homicide and violent crime rates, broken supply chains, number of high regime officials currently under investigation by the US Treasury for narcotrafficking — it has already arrived.

At first blush, the global economic risks posed by a Venezuelan collapse may seem limited — China, the country's biggest creditor, is paid off in oil, not dollars, while US imports of Venezuelan crude have nearly halved since the 1990s and Brazil's language barrier and forbidding Amazon border would probably shield the country from the worst of the humanitarian consequences. But, even so, the fallout for the region — and beyond — could be severe.

The Obama administration's rapprochement with Cuba is a direct result of Havana's perception that Venezuela, which replaced the Soviet Union as the island's chief benefactor in the 2000s, can no longer be relied upon. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, former beneficiaries of Venezuela's petro-largesse such as Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are scrambling to retool their economies for its absence. For Guyana, the mainland former British colony embroiled in a centuries-old territorial dispute with Venezuela, the stakes are even higher. As Mr Maduro's popularity has plummeted, he has leaned increasingly hard on his eastern neighbour, in an apparent bid for nationalist support.

Perhaps most at risk is Colombia, which has emerged as a superstar economic performer. The collapse of Venezuela's import sector, Bogota's second-largest market, is already hurting it economically. For a decade it has received the bulk of Venezuela's fleeing educated class, even while its own surplus of unskilled labour has headed in the opposite direction. The return of such emigrants to Colombia, alongside fleeing Venezuelans, could worsen the security crisis at the countries' porous border — where smuggling and narcotrafficking are already rife and guerrilla groups operate with impunity.

In the end, should Venezuela's leaders continue with the untenable economic policies they inherited from Hugo Chávez, the country's late leader, the results will be dire. In refusing to bend, they will eventually break. And while globally the short-term economic effects may seem limited, a failed state at the heart of a region already undermined by corruption scandals, domestic instability and economic malaise, would be a recipe for disaster: like Bolivar's earthquake, only transnational, and imminently avoidable.

The writer teaches Latin American business at the Kellogg School of Management

Read the article online here:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#RT uncovered. #Putin’s News Network of Lies Is Just the Start

Putin's media manipulation is so blatant, it takes a real believer - or a real hater of the West - to swallow it all

Putin’s News Network of Lies Is Just the Start
By Anne Applebaum and Edward Lucas 8/11/15 at 12:08 PM

When the Berlin Wall fell, the Western world stopped thinking about how to explain and promote its political system in Russia and around the world. Neither offense nor defense, it seemed, was necessary any more.

The Soviet bloc’s long-standing use of propaganda and disinformation was in disrepute even at home. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev himself joked at a press conference that there was no need to answer a question from the BBC “because you know everything already.”

Journalists in Russia and other ex-Communist countries scrambled to copy Western media models. In the post-Soviet world, the Western media were no longer the hyenas of bourgeois nationalism but the epitome of fairness, decency and truth. Western journalists happily concurred.

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But the golden age of post-Communist media was over almost before it began. In countries such as Belarus and the republics of ex-Soviet central Asia, the authorities simply took over all of the media that mattered. In Russia, pluralism survived for a decade, although corruption and proprietorial interference first tainted and then obliterated the ideals of the early 1990s.

Vladimir Putin perhaps rightly objected to oligarchic control of the media. But his solution—bringing all mainstream media under the control of the state, or its cronies, made things worse not better.

None of that troubled the outside world, any more than Putin’s onslaught on the Russian constitution or his capture of the commanding heights of the Russian economy. Nor did most Westerners worry about the fragility of the media in the nations of what we used to call Eastern Europe.

Lacking a strong commercial base, much of the media in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states began to suffer from the same commercial pressures and cynicism that affected their counterparts in the former Soviet Union.

Even while this was happening, the idea that the Putin regime could wage an effective propaganda war against the West aroused incredulity, among both policymakers and media professionals. What could the Kremlin conceivably say that would make an impact among seasoned Western media consumers or even less seasoned Central Europeans? Why would anyone even listen to state-sponsored foreign propaganda channels, let alone believe what they broadcast?

The first part of the answer to that is in just two letters: RT. Initially mocked for its clumsy pro-Kremlin line, the station once known as Russia Today has morphed into a sophisticated, multilingual channel that focuses not on eulogizing the Putin regime but in decrying the West. Its motto is “Question more,” though a more accurate version would add the words “except where Russia is concerned.”

RT looks on the surface like any other television channel. Its presenters speak English and the other languages it broadcasts in (such as German) flawlessly. The content is a lively mix of scandal and polemic.

Taken individually, most RT items would not look out of place on Western television: Scare stories about disease outbreaks and disasters; “exposés” of hypocrisy, corruption and abuse of power; and terrifyingly negative reports about the prospects for the world economy.

But RT is highly selective. It reports scandals but not the efforts made to deal with them. It omits in its coverage the most essential feature of Western democracies: contestability.

Things go wrong all the time, but in the Western system of government you have a chance to put them right. You can complain to your elected representatives, sue the people who have wronged you (including the government), launch public campaigns, set up pressure groups, fulminate in the media and, if necessary, use the electoral system to make your case.

Of course the Western system isn’t perfect, but it does contain checks and balances, independent courts and elected officials. None of these things exist in Putin’s Russia.

By systematically highlighting the woes of the West and ignoring the far greater shortcomings at home, RT helps spread the idea that Western criticism of Russia is selective and unfair. It strenuously promotes the idea that truth is relative and facts are elastic.

But RT is only one small part of Russia’s disinformation empire. The second pillar is the system of “troll factories,” memorably exposed in a recent New York Times article.

On September 11 last year, hundreds of Twitter accounts began “reporting” news of a major chemical explosion in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. Nothing of the kind had occurred, but the abundance of “eyewitness” reports gave the accident a War of the Worlds-like credibility. As the Times reported

“A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

This was not an elaborate prank. It was a carefully planned exercise involving cloned websites, spurious text messages, a faked YouTube video, doctored screen shots and hundreds of social media accounts run by the Kremlin’s “trolls.” Other hoaxes, involving an Ebola outbreak and a police shooting, followed in subsequent weeks.

Of course these were one-off stunts, but they prove that the Kremlin is building its capabilities in this sphere, practicing for bigger tasks.

This kind of disinformation is already a central part of what military analysts call “hybrid war”—the use of nonmilitary means to erode the adversary’s willpower, confuse and constrain his decision making and undermine his public support, so that victory can be attained without a shot being fired. This is how Russia operated in Ukraine. Now it is trying it on the West, both in the front-line states of central Europe as well as the supposedly impregnable countries of Western Europe and North America.

So far, the fake stories, fake websites and bogus “experts” are a fringe phenomenon in larger Western countries. But in smaller countries where the media are weak and easily manipulated, they are already beginning to help shape public opinion and change the outcome of elections.

The current Czech president was elected with the help of Russian money—it came directly from Lukoil, a Russian company—as well as pro-Russian websites. In Bulgaria, a Russian oligarch is attempting to purchase a major television station. Even in France, Russian financial support for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party is part of a concerted effort to change the outcome of elections in a major European country.

Belatedly, Western governments are beginning to come to grips with this. NATO has a center of excellence for “strategic communications” (i.e., information warfare) in Riga, the Latvian capital. NATO’s own communication efforts in Brussels have finally acquired a much sharper edge, with punchy infographics blasting Russian “myths” about Western encirclement.

Britain has revived its military propaganda efforts with a new unit, the 77th Brigade, comprising 1,500 soldiers with expertise in social media. The United States is beefing up its vestigial Soviet-era efforts against disinformation within the State Department.

But these efforts are tiny in the face of what is only going to become a greater challenge with time, not only from Russia but from China, Iran and others that seek to take advantage of the West’s open media space in order to manipulate Western public opinion.

In a world where social media can become a weapon of disinformation and journalists can be hoodwinked by phony “experts,” we need new methods not just of combating disinformation but of identifying it, explaining it and understanding how it works. In the coming months, the Center for European Policy Analysis hopes to begin this long process.

Anne Applebaum is a senior adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, where she co-leads a major initiative aimed at countering Russian disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe. Edward Lucas is a senior vice president at CEPA and energy, commodities and natural resources editor at The Economist.

Read the article on Newsweek here: Putin’s News Network of Lies Is Just the Start

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