Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraq Election

Not surprisingly George Bush is trumpeting the Iraq election as a great success.

Juan Cole provides some useful context that takes some of the shine off Mr. Bush's triumphalism.

Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded.

Robin Wright's column in the Washington Post, which quotes Cole, provides a good summary in today's paper, including the White House spin.

And Kevin Drum reminds us that, um, we have seen this all before.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Journalism Today and Same Sex Marriage

I think this column in today’s Los Angeles captures much of what is wrong with contemporary journalism. It is about Iraq but it could be about anything. The excerpt I like follows: As thorough as The Times' reporting has been, it often reads as if written by acrobats in pain — skilled professionals twisting themselves and their copy into knots as they strain to "balance" what they are actually seeing with the sometimes fantasy-based spin of both Iraqi and U.S. officialdom….Somewhere along the line, American newspapers jumbled and polluted the concept of being objective. Objectivity, maybe better called truth-telling, should be the cherished goal of all reporters and editors.

Meanwhile back in Canada…

The Canadian news media’s coverage of the same sex debate I find quite irritating. It is quite obvious that the bill to be tabled this week will pass. The NDP and the Bloc, with 73 votes between them, will vote for it with one or two exceptions, offset on the other side by the Conservative caucus, again with a the handful of exceptions such as Belinda Stronach. The Liberals could have 30-35 defections and the vote would still pass easily, which is exactly what will happen. But in their endless pursuit of ersatz drama most media treat it as a close contest. Harper’s opposition is entirely about playing to his base, which would be furious with him if he did not put up a show of opposition.

There has not been much media play of this Environics poll, which indicates that public opinion supports the bill 54-43. It is split along age and regional lines with the greatest support for the legislation coming from Quebec and B.C. and the 18-29 age group and opposition from those over 60 and Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. This Ipsos-Reid poll suggests it would have little impact on a possible election, although I note that the Liberal move up to 41% here appears to be at the expense of the NDP who are at 13% in this survey. As I don't have a subscription to Reid I can't see the details but the lead question in the survey asks respondents if they want an election based on this issue (71% don't), and then it appears that they asked if there is one anyway, who will you vote for. Compared to this Leger poll from last spring, the Environics results suggest public opinion is moving towards support for same sex marriage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

New Federal Poll

The new year is well upon us and the House Commons returns to work in just under two weeks with a budget probably coming in February. Ralph Goodale is consulting opposition parties about the budget’s contents to avoid a vote of non-confidence. Just in case the budget is defeated and an election results, what should we expect?

A poll released recently by Environics has the Liberals at 37%, the Conservatives at 29%, and the NDP at 20%. The Bloc is at 47% in Quebec with the Liberals 29%, four points below the last election.

When run through my seat forecasting model (based on the 2004 results) the poll suggests the Liberals would win with a minority. The results are Liberals - 137 (compared to 135 last June), Conservatives - 77 (a drop of 22 from last year), NDP - 34 (15 additional seats) and the Bloc - 59. In this scenario it is the NDP that holds the balance of power.

My gut hunch is that between elections polls tend to overestimate Liberal support in English Canada and understate it in Quebec (the so-called hidden federalist vote). This poll nonetheless strongly suggests that a majority government is not in the cards.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tsunami and AIDS

It has been gratifying to see the strong humanitarian response on the part of the rest of the world to the tsunami disaster in Asia. However, it appears to take a singular dramatic turn of events to bring out this impulse in all of us. The AIDS epidemic is the equivalent of the tsunami on an ongoing basis. To his credit, this point was made recently by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In Canada the person who has made the greatest efforts to bring the AIDS epidemic in Africa to public awareness is Stephen Lewis, who has established a foundation with the objective of "easing the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa".

Monday, January 03, 2005

Media and the Tsunami

There has been a good deal of criticism of western leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, suggesting they displayed a slow response to the Asian tsunami crisis. See here and here, for example. George W. Bush was among the slowest to respond, although his insensitivity will surprise no one.

I am not going to comment their behaviour but rather the immediate media response. On the day it happened I did notice that CNN, a critical media outlet for breaking news - around the world, not just in the U.S. - paid little attention to the story, devoting much of its schedule to the usual blather. See the headlines on this segment of CNN, for example, about 12 hours after the earthquake and tsunamis occurred. There are interviews following the headlines about the disaster, but CNN did not deem it worthy of inclusion in its lead headlines.

CBC Newsworld, although it was a statutory holiday here (unlike in the U.S.), did provide live reports and updates as best they could deliver them - mainly phone interviews.

We live in a world where all reality is validated by media. I wonder if any of these leaders might someday admit they were unduly influenced by CNN's slack response?