Profiles in Idiocy

Righties are pointing to two items that turned up in the recent WikiLeaks military field report dump and claiming “we wuz right.” Of course, they aren’t, but there’s no point trying to explain that to them.

But just because I can’t stand to let lies go unanswered, I’ll explain anyway.

The field notes released recently estimate 109,032 Iraqi deaths over a six-year period, including about 66,000 civilian deaths. The civilian deaths detailed in the reports were mostly from roadside bombs or sectarian violence. This caused some Aussie to note:

I’m not sure it’s what WikiLeaks intended, but its latest leaks reveal that the infamous Lancet paper which claimed the US-led liberation of Iraq cost the lives of 655,000 Iraqis in fact exaggerated the death toll by at least 600 per cent.

Of course, the Lancet study and the field notes are apples and oranges. The Lancet study was not trying to measure the number of people killed by wartime violence. It was a study of the changes in mortality rates FROM ALL CAUSES before and after the U.S. coalition invasion. ALL CAUSES included deaths from sickness, from falling off ladders while changing light bulbs, from heart attacks, from getting drunk and drowning in a bathtub, whatever.

The Lancet people took large samples and determined that the mortality rate in Iraq, expressed as deaths per 1,000 per year, had gone up from 5.5 before the invasion to 13.3 after the invasion. This was their principal finding. Again, this is ALL DEATHS, not just deaths that happened during some military action.

The point of this was not to determine how many people were being killed directly by guns and bombs, but as one way to measure quality of life before and after the invasion. And this is important, because the real impact of war is not just the direct impact of guns and bombs. It is the impact of scarcity of clean water, or baby formula, or antibiotics. It’s also the impact of the abundance of stress.

A person who died in his home of a treatable illness because the local hospital was bombed and the doctors ran away is just as much a casualty of war as the hospital personnel who died in the bombing. But the military field report would not have counted such a death; the Lancet study did.

Now, it’s possible the Lancet study was inaccurate. I’m not in a position to judge. I’m just trying to set the record straight on what the Lancet study actually, well, studied. It didn’t say what most people say it said.

Again, it was the change in the mortality rate that was significant, not an absolute number of deaths. However, some people got out their calculators and came up with a number of Iraqi deaths in the range of 650,000, a number which, for reasons explained in an old post, should not have been the focus of attention.

And that number got in the headlines, and the Right reacted with scorn and derision and declared the Lancet study bogus, because they couldn’t believe that 650,000 Iraqis had been killed by guns and bombs. And they hadn’t, and the Lancet study never said such a thing, but because righties don’t read, or think, they never bothered to understand what the Lancet study actually said. And they still don’t understand what it said.

Fred Kaplan gets it wrong also, strongly implying that the Lancet study claimed 650,000 deaths mostly from U.S. air and artillery strikes. Naughty, Fred Kaplan.

Righties are also claiming the field notes say that vast quantities of WMDs were found that we weren’t told about. However, if you actually read the article they’re all linking too — again, the reading thing always trips them up — what was actually found appears to have been mostly old and degraded mustard gas and similar stuff left over from before the Gulf War, in “relatively small stockpiles.”

Wingnuts: This is not news. Get a grip.

At one point, the article says, some troops found some old mustard gas that was still potent enough to raise a few blisters if applied to the skin. Wow. And for this we invaded Iraq.

Stuff to read: The Washington Post tried to figure out how many tea party followers there really are and what they really think. The first thing they learned is that of 1,400 or so local tea party groups that are claimed to exist, fewer than 650 could be verified. Even with the help of the parent organizations, independent research, and multiple phone calls, a majority of the groups listed on the tea party websites appear to be made of phantoms.

The groups that were found were sent questionnaires, most of which were filled out and returned. The results showed us, once again, that the Tea Party is a movement without a cause:

Seventy percent of the grass-roots groups said they have not participated in any political campaigning this year. As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general. …

…The most common responses were concerns about spending and limiting the size of government, but together those were named by less than half the groups. Social issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights, did not register as concerns.

I got a kick out of this:

One question remains: If most tea party groups don’t engage in political campaigning, what exactly do they do?

Lisante, from Miami County, Ohio, said his meetings generally start with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer, and then a speaker and a skit – the most recent was about the bank bailout. (Lisante said it was very funny.) The point, he said, is not to organize political action but to educate members and encourage them to become active on their own.

I can’t be too hard on this group, because at least they give a damn. It’s just a shame they’re never exposed to anything but right-wing propaganda.

Finally, don’t miss Ari Berman’s “Boot the Blue Dogs.”