Monday, October 23, 2006

The Iraqi Dead

Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly is back talking about the Johns Hopkins study published in Lancet which estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.

I have stayed away from the topic, and the controversy, because 30,000 dead Iraqis (the figure that the Bush administration grudgingly admits) doesn't make the war any more acceptable than 655,000 dead Iraqis. By trying to get others to dismiss the survey, Republicans expose the myth of their being "the party of life."

Lancet is the gold standard, and reputable polling organizations have agreed with the methodology used - "Polling experts supported the methods used by the surveyors":
"The sampling is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets," said John Zogby, whose Utica, N.Y.-based polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began. "It is what people in the statistics business do."

Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Democratic People's Republic of Congo.

Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, told the Washington Post the survey method was "tried and true." He said that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."

Frank Harrell Jr., chairman of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press the study incorporated "rigorous, well-justified analysis of the data."

I know a little about polling and statistical analysis (emphasis on a little meaning just that, a little, no sarcasm intended), but enough to know who to go to for thorough, accurate, legitimate and useful information.

All that Bush and Republicans have countered with is a belief that "it's wrong" - "If the death toll were really that high, there would be massive refugee outflows from Iraq." There are massive refugee outflows from Iraq.

The traditional Republican pollsters whom Republicans send out to cable news programs, like Frank Luntz and Kellyanne Conway, are noticeably absent from this discussion. Luntz and Conway, celebrity pollsters, use that role to influence public opinion. Whatever polling data that they deliver on CNN or Hardball has been specifically phrased to get the answer that will spin viewers. They may provide their Republican clients with other, legitimate information, but that's not what they go in front of the cameras with. They go public with words and phrases that have been through focus groups and tested to persuade and sell the Republican anti-people|pro-corporate policies.

There will probably be a future issue of Lancet devoted to reasoned, deliberative arguments on both sides of this issue. Decide then on its merits, and not the political significance. Until then, I wouldn't pay much attention to the responses that come out either in the popular press or TV talk shows or the internet. My sense about such arguments is that they will be mainly arguments from people who have axes to grind, who come from a position rather than "let's look at this data very carefully."

Until then, we have an election on the horizon, and the issues facing us are not getting discussed by either party. The war is only one of the issues.

This is the time, the only time in our form of democracy, when the people get a voice and play a part. We have an ignorant electorate that presumes the positions of candidates because of their party affiliation. Republican voters think that the Clintons are liberals, and unfortunately, so do most democratic voters. Bill Clinton does bear some responsibility in the center being moved so far to the right in this country, when most Americans agree with liberals on the issues, yet they run from the label of 'liberal.'

The candidates want to say as little as possible, the media are co-conspirators in the deception, and we-the-people are left surprised after election day when the winners turn out to be not what we-the-people imagined 'compassionate conservatives' would be like.

Now is the time that we get to hold our candidates' feet to the fire, and demand specifics from their rhetoric. How long are we going to let ourselves be duped, by both parties. How long are we going to give a pass to Democrats?

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