19 November 2007

Absolute Clarity on Immigration

You've known it for years. Felt it in your bones. As a cop on the streets you see it every day, yet our policy makers either seem uninterested or patently neglectful.

The issue is illegal immigration.

And what I'm referring to is the disconnect between what we're seeing on the ground and what our leaders are pushing down our throats. The pabulum coming out of congress and the White House about illegals is maddening to those of us who patrol the streets in large urban areas. We see what our "enlightened" leaers are blind to: the violence, the machismo, the rigid need for "respect", the incessant demands for entitlements and the blatant disregard for our laws, our language and our national sovereignty. When public officials decry that illegals are forced to "live in the shadows" they never say where these "shadows" are. As far as I can tell, illegals aren't in any shadows - they're out in broad daylight. They purchase cars, open bank accounts, obtain easy credit, buy homes (multiple properties), go to the movies, rent movies, take vacations, go to emergency rooms when their kids get sick; in short, they're enjoying the life of a typical American. They even have dozens of their own spanish-language cable stations to choose from.

With unparalleled luminosity, Heather McDonald, writing for City Journal, explains with her usual panache the dark, seemy underbelly of illegal immigration.
Her outline for dealing with a long-term solution to illegal immigration follows the following principles:

*Principle 1: Respect The Law
*Principle 2: Protect National Sovereignty
*Principle 3: Support law enforcement
*Principle 4: Pay attention to the facts on the ground
*Principle 5: refer local decision makers over remote elites.

Go read the entire article here.


Sabian said...

Everyone from Washington to Springfield to local cities and towns are too bus pacilying the masses to protect their voter base. Thus, keep their lazy asses in office. They are selling us good AMERICANS out. Has anyone really ever checked out the paperwork on the cleaning crew at Homan Square?.......

Coldtype said...

Off Topic Warning!

Hello Rue, I'll comment another day on your "analysis" of the immigration issue, but tonight I fell compelled to respond to this attack of yours from the “The Quisling and The Dead” thread of 10 Nov 07:

“Hey ColdType - I love how you just throw out only the facts that support your little world-view. And I don't know which public school you attended but your knowledge on history and 'facts' is shallow. We haven't killed "millions" in Iraq, nor "tens of thousands" in Central America.

You nitwits in the "Blame America for Everything" crowd need to wake up from your Bush Derangement Syndrome and quit dabbling in hyperbole. Where do you get your information - seriously - I'd like to know. www.myDD.net? www.prisonplanet.com? The DailyKOS? You LeftWing Nuts just make it up as you go along. You're probably a fan of that other retarded playwright Harold Pinter, huh? "Nothing is real" and all that esoteric non-sense.....”

You remember that don’t you buddy? Well you did ask for some of my sources, so I’ll oblige. What follows is a series of reports from the media watchdog group Media Lens (the British version of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) in which they investigate the MSM response or, more accurately, the lack thereof to the John Hopkins-Bloomberg School of Public Health report as published in the Lancet Medical Journal and the more recent Opinion Research Business poll on excess deaths in Iraq as the result of the US/UK invasion. So kick back, grab a cold one, and learn something about the consequences of American Empire.

PS. Yes, I’m a huge admirer of Harold Pinter.

* * * *

The Media Ignore Credible Poll Revealing 1.2 Million Violent Deaths In Iraq

We Can’t Talk About Oil

The media are not, as is commonly supposed, windows on the world; they are more like paintings or sketches of windows on the world - both the ‘window’ and the ‘reality’ beyond are manufactured corporate products.

The problem is that the manufacturers selling their wares, while portraying themselves as disinterested, are anything but. They are profit-seeking media corporations that have a very clear interest in highlighting certain issues and in burying others out of sight.

Economist Alan Greenspan - former Chairman of the US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve - writes in a single sentence of his new 531-page memoir:

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." (Leader, ‘Power, not oil, Mr Greenspan,’ Sunday Times, September 16, 2007)

A Sunday Times leader briefly waved away this curious outburst:

“Many free market economists, like their Marxist opponents, fall into the fallacy of believing that everything in politics hinges on financial self-interest. True, oil has always been an important factor in Middle Eastern strategy but even countries opposed to the war believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The real reason for the war was Saddam's defiance and the projection of US power after 9/11.” (Ibid)

Asked to explain his remark, Greenspan said:

"From a rational point of view, I cannot understand why we don't name what is evident and indeed a wholly defensible pre-emptive position." (Richard Adams, ‘Invasion of Iraq was driven by oil, says Greenspan,’ The Guardian, September 17, 2007)

Greenspan noted that he made his “pre-emptive” economic case for war to White House officials and that one lower-level official told him: "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil." (Bob Woodward, ‘Greenspan: Ouster Of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security,’ Washington Post, September 17, 2007)

Greenspan’s comment was too important to be completely ignored by the media, but far too dangerous to be seriously discussed (the three sentences from the Sunday Times, above, constitute the most in-depth discussion to appear in the UK press). We can be sure that honest and open analysis of this absolutely central issue will not be forthcoming. Indeed, Greenspan has quickly “clarified” that, in arguing that “the Iraq war is largely about oil”, he of course didn’t mean that oil was the motivation for the war:

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive. I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential." (Ibid)

1.2 Million Iraqis Have Been Murdered

Another aspect of reality that has no place in the corporate media’s painted window was highlighted last Friday with the release (September 14) of a new report by the British polling organisation, Opinion Research Business (ORB). ORB is no dissident, anti-war outfit; it is a respected polling company that has conducted studies for customers as mainstream as the BBC and the Conservative Party.

The latest poll revealed that 1.2 million Iraqi citizens “have been murdered” since the March 2003 US-UK invasion. (www.opinion.co.uk/Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=78)

In February, Les Roberts, co-author of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports, argued that Britain and America might by then have triggered in Iraq "an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide", in which 800,000 people were killed. (Roberts, 'Iraq's death toll is far worse than our leaders admit,' The Independent, February 14, 2007;

The key importance of the new poll is that it provides strong evidence for this claim, and strong support for the findings of the 2006 Lancet study, which reported 655,000 deaths. Roberts sent this email in response to the ORB poll:

"The poll is 14 months later with deaths escalating over time. That alone accounts for most of the difference [between the October 2006 Lancet paper and the ORB poll]. There are confidence interval issues, there are reasons to assume the Lancet estimate is too low but the same motives for under-reporting should apply to ORB. Overall they seem very much to align. (e.g. both conclude that: most commonly violent deaths are from gunshot wounds [in contradiction to IBC and the MOH*], most deaths are outside of Baghdad [in contradiction to the other passive monitoring sources which tallied ~3/4th of deaths in the first 4 years in Baghdad and have only recently attributed even 1/2 as being elsewhere], Diyala worse than Anbar....)."
[* MOH = Iraqi Ministry of Health] (Email to Media Lens and others, September 14, 2007)

And yet, despite its obvious significance, the ORB study has been almost entirely blanked by the US-UK media. At time of writing, four days after the findings were announced, the poll has been mentioned in just one national UK newspaper - ironically, the pro-war Observer. It has been ignored by the Guardian and the Independent.

The BBC’s Newsnight may have been alone in providing TV broadcast coverage. The programme devoted the first 28 minutes of its September 14 edition to the financial crisis at Northern Rock bank. At 28:53 anchor Gavin Esler said:

“More than a million Iraqis have been killed since the invasion in 2003, according to the British polling company ORB. The study’s likely to fuel controversy over the true, human cost of the war. It’s significantly up on the previous highest estimate of 650,000 deaths published by the Lancet last October. At the time, the Iraqi government described +that+ figure as ‘ridiculously high’. The independent Iraqi [sic] Body Count group puts the current total at closer to 75,000.” (Newsnight, September 14, 2007)
Esler’s contribution ended after 34 seconds at 29:27.

Could it be that journalists are just too ill-informed to understand the importance of the ORB study? Not according to news presenter Jon Snow, who responded to one emailer asking why Channel 4 had not covered the new study:

"... anyone who reports iraq is bound to be aware of every death toll assessment. alas no one has the slightest idea exactly how many people have died..we are all certain that a very greta many have. Obviously those of us who find the war most heinous want to pin the largest possible number on the people who did this. it is an un fulfilling excercise because by definition it is unprovable and therefore pointless. What we do try to do is to report the known deaths whenever they happen. Iraq Body count, the Lancet extrapolated survey, the Red crescent are all estimates that help to give us a sense of numbers, but we shall never know for sure. What we also do is to report the four million poeple (minimum) who have been displaced by the war. the one and a half million in Jordan and in Syria respectively are largely counted numbers and reliable.” (www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=8904#8904)
Snow wrote:

"... anyone who reports iraq is bound to be aware of every death toll assessment".

We are to believe, then, that highly trained professional journalists have a solid grasp of these issues - members of the public need not worry on that score! But what is so striking is that journalists consistently exhibit an inability to grasp even the basic meaning of the figures involved. Consider Esler’s comment above:

“The independent Iraqi [sic] Body Count group puts the current total at closer to 75,000.”
Iraq Body Count (IBC) does not at all offer a “total” figure to be compared with the Lancet and ORB studies. IBC only collects records of violent civilian deaths reported by two different (mainly Western) media sources operating in Iraq. Epidemiologists report that this type of study typically captures around 5 per cent of deaths during high levels of violence, such as exists in Iraq. By contrast, the Lancet studies provide figures for all deaths - violent and non-violent, civilian and military, reported and unreported.
The response we received from the Newsnight editor, Peter Barron, is a further case in point:

“I certainly think it was right to report the ORB findings, and to put them in context. The IBC figure is of course not offering a comprehensive estimate of the total number of deaths, but it has the virtue of being real data and therefore provides one end of the spectrum.” (Email to Media Lens, September 17, 2007)
The suggestion that the Lancet reports are not based on "real data" is remarkable. It is also wrong to suggest that IBC provides a different "end of the spectrum" to the Lancet reports. Talk of a "spectrum" presupposes that the same quantity is being measured in each case. But that is simply false.
Snow also comments:

"... alas no one has the slightest idea exactly how many people have died".
In fact we do have a good idea of how many have died - the issue of exactness is a red herring. The point about the ORB study is that it provides strong supportive evidence for the findings of the earlier, far more detailed and rigorous 2006 Lancet study. The Lancet authors have been calling for exactly this kind of follow up study to help confirm or refute their findings. It seems clear that the Lancet figure of 655,000 deaths, although now a year out of date, was accurate.

For the media to ignore the ORB study is an authentic scandal. Doubtless the failure is in part rooted in simple ignorance of its significance. If so, this amounts to a form of criminal negligence in the face of vast war crimes. But, as discussed above, structural realities continue to apply - the media system is an integrated component of a system that benefits from the subordination of people and truth to profit and power.

* * *

PART II (published Oct 2006)

The Lancet Reports 655,000 Excess Iraqi Deaths As A Consequence Of The Invasion
How do we judge the health of a free society? How do we distinguish the appearance of democracy from the reality?

There are no hard and fast rules, no scientific methodologies. But as a rule of thumb it is safe to suggest that we can learn much from a society's willingness to address the humanitarian crimes for which it is responsible.

In a totalitarian society, we would expect such a discussion to be absent in any meaningful sense. But in a genuinely free society, we would expect a thorough, detailed and unrestrained debate. Although this second expectation is itself based on an important assumption: namely, that individual freedom implies moral concern, a sense of responsibility for the suffering of others. We assume that to be a free human being means, also, to be free from the bonds of selfishness and indifference.

October 11 and 12 were significant dates, then, for anyone seeking to establish something of the truth of our own society. On October 11 news organisations began reporting the results of an article published by the Lancet medical journal: 'Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey.' The study was led by Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. The survey itself was conducted by eight Iraqi doctors led by Riyadh Lafta of Al Mustansiriya University, Baghdad. The doctors collected data from 1,849 households comprising 12,801 individuals in 47 population clusters across Iraq. The survey findings were staggering:

"We estimate that, as a consequence of the coalition invasion of March 18, 2003, about 655 000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation, which is equivalent to about 2•5% of the population in the study area. About 601 000 of these excess deaths were due to violent causes. Our estimate of the post-invasion crude mortality rate represents a doubling of the baseline mortality rate, which... constitutes a humanitarian emergency." (Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, 'Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey,' http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/

The scientists estimate that the most probable number of excess deaths is 654,965. They also estimate, with 95 per cent certainty, that the actual number lies between 392,979 and 942,636.

It is important to note that the standard figure for Iraqi deaths offered by the mainstream media is that supplied by Iraq Body Count (IBC). At time of writing, the "maximum" IBC figure stands at 48,783. There has long been great confusion among journalists about exactly what this figure represents. Many believe it describes the maximum possible total of Iraqi dead, or of all Iraqi civilians killed. In fact it is the figure solely for Iraqi civilian victims of violence as reported by at least two (mostly Western) media as selected by IBC for use in their study.

So although the latest Lancet study measures a much broader range of deaths, the difference is nevertheless enormous, particularly for the many journalists who assume the studies measure much the same thing. Likewise, the Lancet figures must strike the public as astonishingly high given that they have been repeatedly reminded of IBC's 48,000 death toll and George Bush's 30,000 figure.
As we will see, the Lancet's latest study has inherent credibility. The reasons were explained in a rare US press editorial on the matter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) on October 15:
"Here is one of the world's most respected medical journals publishing a peer-reviewed study by epidemiologists backed by Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health, part of one of the world's most respected medical schools." ('Methodology in madness,' October 15, 2006)
In sum, a free press in a free society would simply +have+ to investigate this study in depth, if only to resolve the confusion of a bemused and concerned public in response to an inherently credible report.

The Front Pages

In the event, the story failed to appear on the front pages of most newspapers on October 12. We collected a pile of dailies that day and noted the following front pages:

Daily Mirror: 'Terror in the tower' and 'Sex swap Jacko? - Showbiz exclusive.'

The Daily Telegraph: 'The tagged prisoners freed to kill.'

The Daily Mail: 'Britain's taxes soaring' and 'But landlord Hamza is doing very nicely out of this country.'

The Times: 'Race quotas "needed to end divide in schools",' and '10/11 - New York plane hits building.' (Six news stories were also briefly summarised linking to pages inside the paper: 'Lib Dem donor was fraudulent,' 'Poland's future,' 'Visa splits in two,' 'Richest woman,' 'Libel victory,' and 'Disappearing act.')

Daily Express: 'Oh no not again - Plane hits New York tower block.'

The Daily Star: 'My BB date rape hell.'

The Sun: 'Apauling.' [relating to an England football match]

The Financial Times: 'Visa bows to pressure and unveils IPO move.'

Only the Independent and Guardian made the report their front page lead stories:

The Independent: '655,000 the toll of war in Iraq.'

The Guardian: 'One in 40 Iraqis killed since invasion.'

A LexisNexis database search (October 18) found that the words 'Jack Straw' and 'veil' have been mentioned in 348 articles over the last week. The words 'Madonna' and 'adoption' have been mentioned in 219 articles. The words 'Iraq' and 'Lancet' have been mentioned in 44 articles. The words 'Lancet' and '655,000' have been mentioned in eight national newspaper articles.

The Times devoted a third of a page to the Lancet story on page 45. The Daily Mail had three-quarters of a page on page 2. The Daily Express had a two-inch wide column on page 6 dwarfed by the adjacent story: '"Ageist" birthday cards banned from the office.' The Daily Telegraph had 422 words on page 5. The Financial Times had 609 words on page 7. Of these newspapers, only one has since published any follow up reporting or commentary - 35 words in the Financial Times as part of a round-up of the week's events on October 14.

The Observer devoted 43 words in a single sentence in a comment piece by Mary Riddell (October 15) and a single sentence in a news piece on page 8. The Independent on Sunday referred to the story in one sceptical paragraph in a comment piece by John Rentoul on page 40 and in one sentence of an article by Patrick Cockburn (October 15).

The Daily Mirror and Daily Star have made no mention of the report at all.
The Independent covered the story on October 12 in a news piece, an editorial, and in a brief examination of how Lancet editor Richard Horton "has turned a once-staid academic journal into a publication at the centre of a string of controversies". (Ben Russell, '"Lancet" back at centre of controversy,' The Independent, October 12, 2006) The Independent has since mentioned the story in two sentences on October 13 and October 18.

The Guardian gave 930 words to the story on October 12 in a news piece and 214 words in a brief explanation of the methodology behind the study. The paper also published a comment piece defending the report by Lancet editor, Richard Horton. Since then, there has been Ben Rooney's 200-word round-up of web-based debate on the story (October 13) and a single sentence in an article by Simon Tisdall (October 17). The Guardian also mentioned the study in an October 12 leader - in a single sentence. Remarkably this was an aside in a piece focusing on the "chaotic travesty" of Saddam Hussein's trial:

"Judicial procedure and decorum may seem irrelevant in a country that is reeling under seemingly unstoppable sectarian violence. Even if the human toll since March 2003 is less than the horrific, if contentious, new estimate of 655,000, Iraq seems to be bleeding to death and falling apart. Still, when Saddam was captured in December 2004, trying him was seen..." (Leader, 'Trials and errors,' The Guardian, October 12, 2006)

With the evidence of our own vast crimes before their eyes, that was all the Guardian editors had to say. Instead, the focus of their concluding paragraph was elsewhere:

"The old tyrant may be getting a far better deal than anything that existed when he was in charge. But that is not saying much. And it is not nearly good enough."

So much for the progressive credentials of the country's "leading liberal newspaper".

Huge Gaps - An Exchange With The BBC

The BBC linked to the story from the front page of its website. The BBC1 13:00 News (October 11) spent 19 seconds on the topic. On the 18:00 News celebrity anchor Natasha Kaplinsky described the figures as "shocking and controversial". Baghdad correspondent Andrew North reassured viewers: "It is only an estimate." On the News at Ten, anchor Huw Edwards explained that the report was "controversial" and that while the report was serious the figures were "controversial though". Reporter David Shukman declared: "We'll never know the figures, it's too dangerous [in Iraq]." The study, he added, had "weaknesses", such as "the margin of error".

Huw Edwards turned to world affairs editor John Simpson for his view. Simpson thought hard and concluded that it was "difficult to be certain" about the death toll. The figures were "possible", he said, but "nobody can tell".

George Bush's comment on the report, "The methodology is pretty well discredited", was widely broadcast and printed. A great moment in TV history was missed when journalists failed to seek clarification on the exact nature of the president's problem with the methodology.

In fact Bush's claim that the methodology had been discredited was a lie, as the people who told him what to say are surely well aware. Richard Brennan, head of health programmes at the New York-Based International Rescue Committee, told Associated Press:

"This is the most practical and appropriate methodology for sampling that we have in humanitarian conflict zones."
Brennan's group has conducted similar projects in Kosovo, Uganda and Congo. He added:

"While the results of this survey may startle people, it's hard to argue with the methodology at this point." (Malcolm Ritter, 'Bush Dismisses Iraq Death Toll Study,' Associated Press Online, October 12, 2006)

Professor Mike Toole of the Centre for International Health, Melbourne, said:

"The methodology used is consistent with survey methodology that has long been standard practice in estimating mortality in populations affected by war. For example, the Burnet Institute and International Rescue Committee (IRC) used the same methods to estimate mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The findings of this study received widespread media attention and were accepted without reservation by the US and British governments. The Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health's Centre for International Health endorses this study." (Toole, The Age (Melbourne), letters to the editor, October 14, 2006)

Richard Garfield, a public health professor at Columbia University who works closely with a number of the authors of the report, told the Christian Science Monitor:

"I loved when President Bush said 'their methodology has been pretty well discredited'. That's exactly wrong. There is no discrediting of this methodology. I don't think there's anyone who's been involved in mortality research who thinks there's a better way to do it in unsecured areas. I have never heard of any argument in this field that says there's a better way to do it." (Dan Murphy, 'Iraq casualty figures open up new battleground,' Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 2006)

John Zogby, whose New York-based polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began, said:

"The sampling is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets. It is what people in the statistics business do." (Anna Badkhen, 'Critics say 600,000 Iraqi dead doesn't tally,' San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 2006)

Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Congo. Zogby also noted that US critics accept the method for opinion polls, which are based on interviews with around 1,000 Americans in a country of 300 million people.

Frank Harrell Jr., chair of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, called the study design solid and said it included "rigorous, well-justified analysis of the data". (Ritter, op., cit)

Steve Heeringa, director of the statistical design group at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, said:

"Given the conditions (in Iraq), it's actually quite a remarkable effort. I can't imagine them doing much more in a much more rigorous fashion." (Ibid)

BBC Newsnight interviewed Sir Richard Peto, Professor of Medical Statistics at the University of Oxford, who described the study as "statistically reliable". (Newsnight, October 11, 2006)

Professor Sheila Bird of the Biostatistics Unit at the Medical Research Council said:

"They have enhanced the precision this time around and it is the only scientifically based estimate that we have got where proper sampling has been done and where we get a proper measure of certainty about these results." (Channel 4 News, October 11, 2006)

Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, commented:

"It is worth emphasising the quality of this latest report, as judged by four expert peers who provided detailed comments to editors." (Clive Cookson and Steve Negus, 'Survey says 600,000 have died in Iraq war,' Financial Times, October 11 2006)

By contrast, Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman, commented that the Lancet "seems to be a medical organization that has politicized itself". (Julie Hirschfeld Davis, 'Bush disputes estimates of Iraqi deaths,' Baltimore Sun, October 12, 2006)

General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, commented:

"I have not seen the study. That 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I've not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so, I don't give that much credibility at all."

Asked about the source of his 50,000 figure, Casey replied:

"I don't remember, but I've seen it over time." ('Co-Author of Medical Study Estimating 650,000 Iraqi Deaths Defends Research in the Face of White House Dismissal,' October 13, 2006; http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?

Any "controversy" surrounding the study is clear, then - professional epidemiologists and other experts in the field consider the report credible while the politicians and generals responsible for the bloodbath detailed in the study dismiss it out of hand.

No matter, BBC Online chose to focus on the "controversy", and alleged "huge gaps" in the study (October 12). We wrote to the BBC's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds, author of the article:

Hi Paul

I've read your report, 'Huge gaps in Iraq death estimates,' (BBC News Online, October 12, 2006) with interest.

You cite critics of this week's Lancet report and of the earlier 2004 report: Michael O'Hanlon, Frank Kaplan, Margaret Beckett, George Bush and Gen George Casey. You also mention that the "IBC reaction to the Lancet report is awaited."

As BBC world affairs correspondent - a senior BBC journalist - what prevents you from approaching professional epidemiologists and other recognised experts in the field, such as Bradley Woodruff, Michael Toole, David Meddings, Richard Garfield and Patrick Ball? Why do you cite only the criticisms of non-experts in response to what is, after all, an extremely complex and involved field of scientific inquiry?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Reynolds replied:

"I quoted those people because they are players." (October 13, 2006)
We sent Reynolds some of the expert opinion cited above and asked him:
"Do you honestly believe BBC Online readers would have found these views less important and credible than, say, those of General Casey and Fred Kaplan? If so, why? If not, why did you ignore them?"

Reynolds responded that he had amended the article to include expert commentary "from Prof Burnham of JH [Johns Hopkins] and another from Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia". (October 13, 2006)

Reynolds added: "If you send me Les Roberts' address I will question him direct."


The media response to the latest Lancet report consisted of initial, relatively high-profile coverage in the broadcast media and more subdued coverage in some print media. Coverage focused heavily on government dismissals and on the alleged 'controversy' surrounding the figures. Expert commentators were few and far between, with journalists exhibiting the usual confusion on the methodology behind, and significance of, the figures. Passing mentions aside, the story was dropped within 24 hours from media coverage, with essentially zero meaningful follow up reporting or analysis since.

Journalists did respond with considerably less scepticism than after the 2004 Lancet report was published. However, the extent of coverage has, if anything, been less than in 2004. To its credit, Newsnight interviewed Les Roberts - a rare chance for one of the report's co-authors to defend the study. On his BBC blog, Newsnight editor Peter Barron revealed that internet-based activism had been a factor in Newsnight's coverage of the story:

"When the story broke of the Lancet report into civilian deaths in Iraq it was accompanied by a rash of e-mails from anti-war groups urging us to run the story. Did that influence us?

"Well, yes in the sense that I learned of the story from an anti-war campaigner who e-mails me regularly. But also no. When I took the report into our morning meeting where none of the producers had yet seen it, there was instant and unanimous agreement that - while the claim was in some people's view not credible - it was easily the most significant development of the day."

Barron added:

"Are these unsolicited interventions helpful or unhelpful? The former, I think, as long as we read them with eyes wide open. You might argue that it would be purer to ignore the pressure from all quarters, but I think lobbying can actually improve our journalism, as long as it's not corrupt, that access to the editors of programmes is equally available to everyone (via e-mail it is) and that we question everything we're told."

But Newsnight's coverage was a rare departure from the norm of stunning media indifference. Where are the in-depth media analyses, expert interviews and investigations? Where the leaders, documentaries and news specials comparing the various death tolls reported from Iraq?

Where are the articles and programmes examining US-UK responsibility under international law, as occupying powers, for the catastrophe in Iraq? Where the discussions of the abject failure of modern democracy to offer either the British or American people any semblance of meaningful choice on foreign policy?
We have been monitoring and reporting media performance for five years, since July 2001. The current media response to a credible report that our government is responsible for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis is the most shocking and outrageous example of media conformity to power we have yet seen.

The implications are clear - no crimes of state are too monstrous or extreme for mainstream journalism. There is no limit to their willingness to obscure the depredations of power. The corporate media, the liberal media very much included, is a grand lie - an apparent source of reason and hope that betrays the people it serves at every turn.

* * * *

PART III (published Nov 2006)


As described in our October 18 Media Alert, 'Democracy And Debate - Killing Iraq' , a recent study published in The Lancet medical journal estimated that 655,000 Iraqi people have been killed as a result of the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq.
The media coverage has been appalling - the words 'Lancet' and 'Iraq' have appeared in national UK newspaper articles some 30 times, with many of these mentions in passing. There has been no serious attempt to examine the Lancet's figures, to explain how they compare to earlier findings from different studies. Anyone aspiring to understand the issue could do so only by visiting small, alternative websites, such as those run by Tim Lambert (www.scienceblogs.com/deltoid) and Stephen Soldz (http://psychoanalystsopposewar.org/blog/
2006/10/24/iraq-body-count-finds-a-task-worth-their-time/), and our own message board.

To its credit, the BBC website has tried harder than most mainstream media to report the issue honestly. In particular, BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds - who has frequently engaged with Media Lens readers - responded to complaints by agreeing to invite questions from members of the public and to forward them to the authors of the Lancet report. On October 30, the BBC posted an edited version of answers from Les Roberts:

Below, we are publishing Roberts' unedited answers. We have also added Roberts' response to an editorial by Steven Moore in the Wall Street Journal.

1. How do you know that you are not reporting the same fatality multiple times?
For example if you were to ask people in the UK if they know anyone who has been involved in a traffic accident most would say they do. Applying your logic that means there are 60 million accidents every year.
-Andrew M, London, UK

Les Roberts: That is an excellent question. To be recorded as a death in a household, the decedent had to have spent most of the nights during the 3 months before their death "sleeping under the same roof" with the household that was being interviewed. This may have made us undercount some deaths (soldiers killed during the 2003 invasion for example) but addressed your main concern that no two households could claim the same death event.

2. It seems the Lancet has been overrun by left-wing sixth formers.
The report has a flawed methodology and deceit is shown in the counting process. What is your reaction to that?
-Ian, Whitwick, UK

LR: Almost every researcher who studies a health problem is opposed to that health problem. For example, few people who study measles empathize with the virus. Thus, given that war is an innately political issue, and that people examining the consequences of war are generally opposed to the war's conception and continuation, it is not surprising that projects like these are viewed as being highly political. That does not mean that the science is any less rigorous than a cluster survey looking at measles deaths. This study was the standard approach for measuring mortality in times of war, it went through a rigorous peer-review process and it probably could have been accepted into any of the journals that cover war and public health.

The Lancet is a rather traditional medical journal with a long history and is not seen as "left-wing" in the public health and medical communities. The types of different reports (medical trials, case reports, editorials) in the Lancet have been included for scores of years. The Lancet also has a long history of reporting about the adverse effects of war, and the world is a more gentle place for it.

3. Why is it so hard for people to believe the Lancet report?
I am an Iraqi and can assure you that the figure given is nearer to the truth than any given before or since.
-S Kazwini, London, UK

LR: I think it is hard to accept these results for a couple of reasons. People do not see the bodies. While in the UK there are well over 1000 deaths a day, they do not see the bodies there either. Secondly, people feel that all those government officials and all those reporters must be detecting a big portion of the deaths. When in actuality during times of war, it is rare for even 20% to be detected. Finally, there has been so much media attention given to the surveillance-based numbers put out by the coalition forces, the Iraqi Government and a couple of corroborating groups, that a population-based number is a dramatic contrast.

4. Why do you think some people are trying to rubbish your reports, which use the same technique as used in other war zones for example in Kosovo?
Another group, which uses only English-language reports - Iraq Body Count - constantly rubbishes your reports. Again, why do you think that is?
-Mark Webb, Dublin, Ireland

LR: I suspect there are many different groups with differing motives.

5. Can you explain, if your figures are correct, why 920 more people were dying each day than officially recorded by the Iraqi Ministry of Health - implying huge fraud and/or incompetence on their behalf?
-Dan, Scotland

LR: It is really difficult to collect death information in a war zone! In 2002, in Katana Health Zone in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) there was a terrible meningitis outbreak, where the health zone was supported by the Belgian Government, and with perhaps the best disease surveillance network in the entire country. A survey by the NGO International Rescue Committee showed that only 7% of those meningitis deaths were recorded by the clinics and hospitals and government officials. Patrick Ball at Berkeley showed similar insensitivity by the press in Guatemala during the years of high violence in the 1980s. I do not think that very low reporting implies fraud.

6. As an analyst myself I would like to know how reliable the method itself actually is.
Les Roberts and his colleagues claim to have used the same method to estimate deaths in Iraq as is used to estimate deaths in natural disasters. Is there any evidence that the method is accurate? By this I mean a comparison of the number actual deaths after a natural disaster with estimates of the number of deaths.
-Rickard Loe, Stockholm, Sweden

LR: That is a good question. There is a little evidence of which I am aware. Note that the 2004 and 2006 studies found similar results for the pre- and initial post-invasion period which at least implies reproducibility. I led a 30 cluster mortality survey in Kalima in the DRC in 2001.
The relief organization Merlin did a nutritional survey and measured mortality in the same area and with a recall period that covered part of our survey. Both were cluster surveys, Merlin used a different technique to select houses and we obtained statistically identical results. In a couple of refugee settings, cluster surveys have produced similar estimates to grave monitoring.

In 1999, in Katana Health Zone in the Congo, I led a mortality survey where we walked a grid over the health zone and interviewed 41 clusters of 5 houses at 1km. spacings. In that survey, we estimated that 1,600 children had died of measles in the preceding half year. A couple of weeks later we did a standard immunization coverage survey (30 clusters of 7 children but selected totally proportional to population) that asked about measles deaths and we found an identical result.
I suspect that Demographic Health Surveys or the UNICEF MICS surveys (which are both retrospective cluster mortality approaches) have been calibrated against census data but I do not know when or where.

7. My understanding is that this study reports ten times more deaths attributable to the war than other studies because this is the only one to use statistical methods to make inferences about the mortality rate across the whole population.
Other studies only record verifiable deaths, which one would expect to constitute only a small part of the total number. Am I correct?
-Matthew, Appleton

LR: Yes.

8. It seems to me that the timing of the publication of the 2004 and 2006 reports - in both cases shortly before a U.S. election - was a mistake.
Does Mr Roberts regret the timing of the release of the two reports or does he feel they achieved some benefit?
-Mik Ado, London, UK

LR: Yes. Both were unfortunate timing. As I said at the time of the first study, I lived in fear that our Iraqi colleagues and interviewers would be killed if we had finished a survey in mid-September and it took two months for the results to get out. This notion has been widely misquoted as saying we wanted to influence the election..as if the two parties somehow had different positions on the war in Iraq. I think in Iraq, a post-election publication in 2004 would have been seen as my colleagues knowing something but keeping it hidden. It was also unfortunate that the attention span of the U.S. media is short during election seasons.
More detailed questions from Joe Emersberger

9. Lancet 2 found a pre-invasion death rate of 5.5/ per 1000 people per year. The UN has as estimate of 10? Isn't that evidence of inaccuracy in the study?
LR: The last census in Iraq was a decade ago and I suspect the UN number is somewhat outdated. The death rate in Jordan and Syria is about 5. Thus, I suspect that our number is valid. Note that if we are somehow under-detecting deaths, then our death toll would have to be too low, not too high. Both because a) we must be missing a lot, and b) the ratio of violent deaths to non-violent deaths is so high.

I find it very reassuring that both studies found similar pre-invasion rates, suggesting that the extra two-years of recall did not dramatically result in under-reporting..a problem recorded in Ziare and Liberia in the past.

10. The pre-invasion death rate you found for Iraq was lower than for many rich countries. Is it credible that a poor country like Iraq would have a lower death rate than a rich country like Australia?

LR: Yes. Jordan and Syria have death rates far below that of the UK because the population in the Middle-east is so young. Over half of the population in Iraq is under 18. Elderly populations in the West are a larger part of the population profile and they die at a much higher rate.

11. A research team led by physicists Sean Gourley and Neil Johnson of Oxford University and economist Michael Spagat have asserted in an article in Science that the second Lancet study is seriously flawed due to "main street bias.". Is this a valid, well tested concept and is it likely to have impacted your work significantly?

LR: I have done (that is designed, led, and gone to the houses with interviewers) at least 55 surveys in 17 countries since 1990.most of them retrospective mortality surveys such as this one. I have measured at different times, self-selection bias, bias from the families with the most deaths leaving an area, absentee bias..but I have never heard of "main street bias." I have measured population density of a cluster during mortality surveys in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Dem. Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo, and in spite of the conventional wisdom that crowding is associated with more disease and death, I have never been able to detect this during these conflicts where malaria and diarrhoea dominated the mortality profile.

We worked hard in Iraq to have every street segment have an equal chance of being selected. We worked hard to have each separate house have an equal chance of being selected. I do not believe that this "main street bias" arose because a) about a 1/4th of the clusters were in rural areas, b) main streets were roughly as likely to be selected, c) most urban clusters spanned 2-3 blocks as we moved in a chain from house to house so that the initial selected street usually did not provide the majority of the 40 households in a cluster and d) people being shot was by far the main mechanism of death, and we believe this usually happened away from home. Realize, there would have to be both a systematic selection of one kind of street by our process and a radically different rate of death on that kind of street in order to skew our results. We see no evidence of either.

12. In Slate Magazine, Fred Kaplan has alleged that:

"....if a household wasn't on or near a main road, it had zero chance of being chosen. And "cluster samples" cannot be seen as representative of the entire population unless they are chosen randomly." Is Kaplan's statement true?

LR: His comment about proximity to main roads is just factually wrong! As far as cluster surveys go, they are never perfect; however, they are the main way to measure death rates in this kind of setting. See the SMART initiative at www.smartindicators.org.

13. Madelyn Hicks, a psychiatrist and public health researcher at King's College London in the U.K., says she "simply cannot believe" the paper's claim that 40 consecutive houses were surveyed in a single day. Can you comment on this?

LR: During my DRC surveys I planned on interviewers each interviewing 20 houses a day, and taking about 7 minutes per house. Most of the time in a day was spent on travel and finding the randomly selected household. In Iraq in 2004, the surveys took about twice as long and it usually took a two person team about 3 hours to interview a 30 house cluster. I remember one rural cluster that took about 6 hours and we got back after dark. Nonetheless, Dr. Hicks concerns are not valid as many days one team interviewed two clusters in 2004.

14. A recent Science Magazine article stated that Gilbert Burnham (one of your co-authors) didn't know how Iraqis on survey team conducted their work. The article also claimed that raw data was destroyed to protect the safety of interviewees. Is this true?

LR: These statements are simply not true; and do not reflect anything said by Gilbert Burnham! He's submitted a letter to the editors of Science in response, which I hope they will print.

15. A UNDP study carried out survey 13 months after the war that had a much higher sample size than both Lancet studies and found about 1/3 the numbers of deaths that your team has found. Given the much higher sample size shouldn't we assume the UNDP study was more accurate and that therefore your numbers are way too high?

LR: The UNDP study was much larger, was led by the highly revered Jon Pederson at Fafo in Norway, but was not focused on mortality. His group conducted interviews about living conditions, which averaged about 82 minutes, and recorded many things. Questions about deaths were asked, and if there were any, there were a couple of follow-up questions.

A) I suspect that Jon's mortality estimate was not complete. I say this because the overall non-violent mortality estimate was, I am told, very low compared to our 5.0 and 5.5/ 1000 /year estimates for the pre-war period which many critics (above) claim seems too low. Jon sent interviewers back after the survey was over to the same interviewed houses and asked just about <5 year old deaths. The same houses reported ~50% more deaths the second time around. In our surveys, we sent medical doctors who asked primarily about deaths. Thus, I think we got more complete reporting.

B) This UNDP survey covered about 13 months after the invasion. Our first survey recorded almost twice as many violent deaths from the 13th to the 18th months after the invasion as it did during the first 12 (see figure 2 in the 2004 Lancet article). The second survey found an excess rate of 2/1000/year over the same period corresponding to approximately 55,000 deaths by April of 2004(see table 3 of 2006 Lancet article). Thus, the rates of violent death recorded in the two survey groups are not so divergent.

Les Roberts Responds To Steven Moore Of The Wall Street Journal
Moore's editorial can be read here:

Distinction between criticism and fabrication regarding deaths in Iraq

I read with interest the October 18th editorial by Steven Moore reviewing our study reporting that an estimated 650,000 deaths were associated with the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. I had spoken with Mr. Moore the week before when he said that he was writing something for the Wall Street Journal to put this survey in perspective. I am not surprised that we differed on the current relevance of 10 year-old census data in a country that had experienced a major war and mass exodus.

I am not surprised at his rejection of my suggestion that the references in a web report explaining the methodology for lay people and reporters was not the same as the references in our painstakingly written peer reviewed article. What is striking is Mr. Moore's statement that we did not collect any demographic data, and his implication that this makes the report suspect.
This is curious because, not only did I tell him that we asked about the age and gender of the living residents in the houses we visited, but Mr. Moore and I discussed, verbally and by e-mail, his need to contact the first author of the paper, Gilbert Burnham, in order to acquire this information as I did not have the raw data. I would assume that this was simply a case of multiple misunderstandings except our first report in the Lancet in 2004 referenced in our article as describing the methods states, ".interviewees were asked for the age and sex or every current household member."
Thus, it appears Mr. Moore had not read the description of the methods in our reports. It is not important whether this fabrication that "no demographic data was collected" is the result of subconscious need to reject the results or whether it was intentional deception. What is important, is that Mr. Moore and many others are profoundly uncomfortable that our government might have inadvertently triggered 650,000 deaths.

Most days in the US, more than 5000people die. We do not see the bodies. We cannot, from our household perspective, sense the fraction from violence. We rely on a functional governmental surveillance network to do that for us. No such functional network exists in Iraq. Our report suggests that on top of the 300 deaths that must occur in Iraq each day from natural causes; there have been approximately 500"extra" deaths mostly from violence.

Of any high profile scientific report in recent history, ours might be the easiest to verify. If we are correct, in the morgues and graveyards of Iraq, most deaths during the occupation would have been due to violence. If Mr. Bush's "30,000 more or less" figure from last December is correct, less than 1 in 10 deaths has been from violence. Let us address the discomfort of Mr. Moore and millions of other Americans, not by uninformed speculation about epidemiological techniques, but by having the press travel the country and tell us how people are dying in Iraq.

* * *

So there you have it Rue. You what some of my sources on American's wars of terror in Central America Rue? I'll be happy to oblige another day.

Coldtype said...

Apologies for the uncharacteristic typos. I'll try harder next time.

Rue St. Michel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coldtype said...

Rue the link didn't work. I'll put my e-mail in the "Random Thoughts" thread on my site.

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to the German method of making gasoline from oil? They were doing this in WWII. We do have lots of coal here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Come on Mikey, get with it! Blaming crime on the lowly, poor working stiff?

What per centage of violent crime in Chicago is committed by undocumented workers? Virtually none of the homicide offenders (solved and unsolved) are done by undocumented workers.

As you point out they purchase autos, go the movies, etc. etc. They do more good than bad. They for the most part, are hard working honest people.