Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Not the Crime but the Cover-up: How Obama fell into the Gulf

In Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on June 15, 2010 at 6:15 am

As you prepare to watch the President’s speech from the Oval Office tonight (unless other matters demand your time and attention), you might ask yourself why it is that this President is being blamed for this disaster. After all he did win the election against his opponent John “drill baby drill” McCain. Sure, the president did announce support for more offshore drilling just weeks before the disaster, and he did not clean house in the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is a poster child for fox in the henhouse regulatory capture. But what caught Obama up in this imbroglio was not the crime of allowing BP to play Russian roulette with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the cover-up afterward in which BP tried to assure the American people that the extent of the damage was going to be far less than it actually turned out to be.

When the President took office, he did have a lot going on: two wars, a run on the banks, the fall of the auto industry, depression era stagnation, health care, student loans, etc. When it came to energy policy he must have thought that  splitting the middle with the Republican Party made sense. Obama was pushing for Cap and Trade, a climate approach that relied on market forces that could be used to cut a deal across party lines on energy reform. How bad could it be to rely on some mix of deep sea drilling given that the world’s nearly 7 million people need energy and must get it somehow. The gulf rigs did make it through Katrina after all.  Here was a chance to be a uniter and not a divider.

This thinking actually made political sense to me at the time. I did not come out and say this then, but I thought that Obama was being quite savvy in his move to allow the Governors with a taste for more risk to take on more drilling off their own state’s shores. Remember how vicious the attacks on his lack of bi-partisanship were at the time as the health care vote loomed. Obama will face similar problems with nuclear power as we simultaneously confront increasing needs and global competition.

But this reasonable move to cross party cooperation was not what sunk Obama, instead the day that will live in infamy was May 14th 2010, when NPR commissioned an analysis of the flow rate from a scientist at Purdue university with expertise in estimating flow rates from video. If you recall this story, it was a shocker and could have been a pivotal moment for the President, but Obama did not take the bait. Because BP was engaged in an active spin campaign to play down the panic that would attend the validation of such estimates, Obama’s lack of attention to these findings, (which were confirmed by other experts at the time as well), placed him symbolically on the side of the cover-up. Up to that point most people seemed to have the reasonable sense that Obama was far less associated with careless drilling operations than the next best alternative: Sarah palin. After that, the slow transfer of ownership was underway. Today, the spill is widely blamed on Obama’s lack of oversight at MMS. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Conflict Resolution a Form of Development? Anticipating the World Development Report

In Development on June 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I had the opportunity to attend a roll-out session of the upcoming World Development Report, and as many of you know, there is to be a direct focus on the negative impacts of violent conflict on development in the document. The process of developing the report is still underway and the authors are not ready to release or circulate any of the findings, but I do not think that I am revealing anything inappropriate when I suggest that the major argument of the upcoming WDR will be that conflict is to various extents incompatible with meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the meeting to discuss the 2011 WDR was the uncanny resemblance of the meeting to a seminar on conflict analysis and resolution. The topics being discussed and the ways in which those topics are handled are very much in the mainstream of what many of us are doing, and if there is a sense  that CR and the World Bank are working in opposite directions, it is not well founded. I can honestly imagine that there are great opportunities for our students to add much to the conversation on how violence and development are related, and on what should be done about it.

If there was something missing in the bank discussion, I would say that its relates more to a sense of how the Bank’s mission has become as much political as it is economic. Keep in mind that the World Bank is a bank. The goals of the organization are to fund projects in the developing world that will bring a reliable return. The authorities in the institution are primarily economists and the habits of mind of that discipline dominate the scene. To remark on just one of my pet peeves, there was a perfect tendency to refer to statistical modeling as econometrics. Of course there is a field called econometrics, but the overlap with it and more general statistical work is so profound that this comes off like claiming the Pythagorean theorem as econoanalytics.  This would be trivial if it was not so revealing, because if fixed effects models can be treated as a sub-field of econometrics (while the cutting edge work on hierarchical linear modeling HLM was developed by specialists in educational sociology) one can imagine how concepts and theoretical sensibilities will translate (see Lyotard’s concept of the Differend).

I could sense a palpable discomfort in the room from those who were only coming to realize how their work is ever more coming to look like an applied branch of political science. the focus on conflict states and political violence is not native to pure field of economics, Read the rest of this entry »

Just what is Islamic Democracy? A discussion among emerging Muslim scholars

In Guest Blogger, Religious Conflict on June 3, 2010 at 10:36 am

Among the core challenges of our era is the need we have to reconcile (at least to the point of coexistence) Western notions of sovereignty and democracy with the indigenous theories and habits of political culture in the Muslim world. It takes little to recognize that we face this challenge as the now clichéd phrases war on terror and clash of civilizations will attest.

Raised in the context of a creaky democratic political culture with roots planted centuries ago, most Americans treat ideas like democracy at face value, as if there were a single face to be evaluated. Our institutions (party system, divisions of government, legal norms, points of participation etc.) are often taken as the very embodiment of democracy itself, but in practice, democracy takes myriad forms. In fact, comparisons in the degree to which a political system approximates a democratic ideal are quite difficult to make in practice.

Even so, we have examples of such comparative enterprises, such as Monty Marshall’s Polity IV project, and when we examine these data, the news is not particularly good for the Muslim world. Islamic states are disproportionately classified as autocracies, if they are not outright failed or occupied. What would it take to move toward a fourth wave of democratization in the Muslim world and what will Democracy look like there once we find it?

For historical and political reasons, much of this conversation must take place in dialogue with the United States, even though most Americans are not in a good position to engage the necessarily syncretic process through which to reach a rapprochement between Western models and Islamic ideals. In order to contribute to that process, I have asked a few of our local Muslim scholars to react to the question: Is there such a thing as a specifically Islamic Democracy, and how does this compare to the seemingly secular forms that are recognized in the West (if indeed these models can be thought of without reference to their origins in a Christian context)?

To anchor the conversation and to make it more explicit, I have asked Saira Yamin, a Pakistani scholar and advanced graduate student at ICAR, to answer in the context of an excerpt I came across on Meet the Press in which the new dictator Zia-ul-Haq introduced the concept of Islamic Democracy to an unsuspecting American audience Read the rest of this entry »