Thursday, August 02, 2007


Hmm... seems the proclamations from the media and the Pentagon about a new low death toll in Iraq were a bit premature. Media outlets stating that July had the lowest US death toll in 8 months, have been quoting a figure of 73 US soldier deaths. According to the latest from Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, July still has the lowest death toll in 8 months, but the margin has now been cut to 1 soldier. The toll is now believed to be 80. For comparison, January, February and March of this year had death counts respectively of 83, 81 and 81. The only reason the July looks good is because April (104), May (126) and June (101) were so bad. In fact if we look at death rate (deaths/day), 2007 has been the bloodiest year for US soldiers of the entire war (2003: 1.92/day, 2004: 2.32/day, 2005: 2.31/day, 2006: 2.25/day, 2007: 3.22/day). 2007 has nearly 1.4 times the death rate of 2004, the previous high, and nearly 1.7 times the rate of 2003, the low mark. Put another way: it took 19 months from the beginning of the war to reach 1000 US deaths, it took 13 months to go from 1000-2000 deaths, and 14 months to go from 2000-3000. If current trends continue it will be 10-11 months between 3000 and 4000 deaths.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

US death rate in Iraq is not decreasing, it is increasing

Although I rarely seem to get around to posting on this blog (I probably should call it: "not a blog" in the vein of George RR Martin), and no one reads it, I still think it’s valuable to post information here when I think it is relevant. This way if people stumble upon it in a Google search they will, perhaps, have found something of interest.

In any case, the post today has to do with US military deaths in Iraq. I wrote a post back in 2005 where I performed an analysis that showed that military deaths were on the rise. Now that almost two years have gone by since I performed that analysis I would like to ask the question: has the death rate of US soldiers continued to rise?

I was inspired to redo this analysis because the US military stated this week that the death toll for July was the lowest in eight months and then spun it to say that the security conditions are getting better. While the factual statement is true, when put into context, this spin is at best meaningless and at worst misleading.

So what is the real picture of US deaths? To answer this question I used data from Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. I also use Iraq war “periods” to illustrate how death rates have changed based on certain well acknowledged conditions on the ground in Iraq. These periods are: 1) the invasion, March and April of 2003; 2) the beginning of the occupation and the establishment of the Coalition Authority, May 2003 to June 2004; 3) the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi Transitional Government, July 2004 to January 2005; 4) the election of the first Iraqi government, February 2005 to December 2005; 5) the second Parliamentary election and the ratification of the Iraqi Constitution, January 2006 to present. In the graph I plotted the average deaths per month throughout the entire period for the war, and performed several trend analyses.

Trends by period (thin solid lines): these show that with the exception of the invasion each period has gotten deadlier for US troops from the beginning of the period to the end. Also transitions between periods usually coincide with the drops in death rate, especially when the transitions involved elections. A possible explanation for these drops is the heavy security and use of strict curfews surrounding the elections. Of course, there may be other explanations for this phenomenon, but it is nevertheless thought provoking.

General trends (linear: heavy dot-dash, three factor polynomial: heavy dot): both general trends are shown for the occupation only and do not include the initial invasion. Both the linear and the three factor polynomial trends show an increasing rate of fatalities throughout the occupation period. The linear regression (R2 = 0.23, P = 0.00039; translation: the trend explains 23% of the variation in death rate and has a 99.9% probability of being a true description of the data) shows a change from 1.55 deaths per day at the beginning of the occupation to 3.02 deaths per day at the present time. I think this is an important point, because the media has focused on the fact the mean for July 2007 is consistent with averages for the years 2004 and 2005. As you can see there is a lot of variation in the death rate from month to month. A low death rate in a single month may be due to any number of factors that are not indicative of changes in the overall conditions of the war. Clearly the overall trend for the war is an increasing rate of US military deaths. The three factor polynomial is not significantly better in explaining the overall trend than the linear trend, but it does give a fairly good general description of changes in the overall death rate over time. The death rate of US soldiers rose sharply from the beginning of the occupation to June 2004 (mean 1.69/day) at which time it leveled off and remained fairly constant until August 2006 (mean 2.25/day). Since August 2006 death rate has again risen sharply (mean 3.12/day). These trends clearly show that the war has gotten increasingly deadly for US soldiers.

July trends (thin dot-dot-dash): one of the most interesting parts of this graph is that July 2007 has actually been the deadliest July on record for US troops. This may be coincidental, in that other Julys just happened to have lower death rates. It may also be caused by external factors that modify the death rate; July is the hottest month in Iraq, perhaps it’s too hot to fight? But I actually prefer a statistical explanation. Conditions on the ground (i.e. strength of insurgency, vulnerability of US troops, etc) may exist that cause an overall death rate. However, even with an overall rate there will still be an amount of variation from day to day and month to month. Conditions on the ground will also affect the variation in the death rate, just as they affect the mean. Interestingly, while the conditions that cause the mean death rate may be murky, conditions that cause variation in the death rate may be easier to spot. For example, we would expect death rates to vary substantially from the background rate when major battles occur. And indeed this occurs. The two high points for US military deaths during the occupation (the highest points in periods 2 and 3) correspond with the first and second battles of Fallujah (I should note that if these points are removed from the dataset the R2 for the linear trend rises to 0.42, in other words it explains 42% of the variation). These battles were the largest and bloodiest of the entire occupation. Since no other battles of this scale have occurred, we can make the reasonable expectation that in all other cases the variation in the death rate has remained fairly constant over time. If this is true then if we pick any two months that occurred during times with different mean death rates, we would in all likelihood find that the month with higher death rate also corresponded to the general time period with the higher death rate. In fact July 2007 has a higher death rate than 60% of all other months during the occupation, showing that it was a very deadly month indeed.

Conclusion: this analysis demonstrates 1) the strong overall trend has been for a steadily increasing death rate from the beginning of the occupation to the present, 2) the death rate for July is not out of character with this trend, and is therefore likely to not be indicative of a change in conditions on the ground. From this I can say that media hype and Pentagon optimism for July’s “lower” death rate are unfounded, and in fact may be deliberately misleading. To end, I sincerely hope that the July death rate is indicative of actual conditional changes in Iraq, and that the death rate for US soldier continues to drop. However, we cannot know whether this is true for several months or years. Until then I remain highly skeptical.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Been a long time.....

I'm pretty sure nobody's readng this blog at the moment, but you all can do something this Tuesday. VOTE!..... and FILM it, then send that film to FIVE distinct media sources.

Do this to preserve democracy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Gee, didn't see this one coming

Well seems like the coverage of Cheney shooting incident has totally wiped out coverage of the NSA spying issue. Our media sucks.

Anyway, here's story that should come as no surprise to anyone. The Supreme Court is revisting abortion on Alito's first day.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Unfortunately, other commitments call and for a spell I will not be able to update this blog with the lengthy pieces I have been writing . I will be back at it as soon as I possibly can, but that may not be until March or later. I still hope to put up a few small posts, but that is also dependent on other commitments. In any case, I want to point out an encouraging article in the New York Times. Republicans are starting to balk at the White House's use wiretaps. There may be a Congressional investigation!

Friday, February 03, 2006

The plot to steal America: election fraud and the loss of Democracy in the US

I have meant, for some time now, to put up a post on the possibility that the 2004 presidential election was stolen. Thanks to comments by rabbit, and a few emails from friends of mine, I have been spurred to do so. Because it's such a large topic I will likely devote a few more posts to the subject.

At this point many of you have probably heard that the election results coming from Ohio were highly suspicious. The suspicious nature of the election results are well covered in a Congressional Report commisioned by a Congressional Commitee headed by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. I would highly reccomend that you read this report. You can also purchase a copy from many online retailers if you have a hard time reading PDFs. In general, the report outlines three time periods in which possible fraud and misconduct may have occured: 1) possible pre-election manipulation including improper allocation of voting equipment to minority areas, targeting minorities for legal challenges to their voting rights and misinformation campaigns, as well as denying access to provisional ballots; 2) manipulation on the day of the election including voter intimidation, registration irregularities due misconduct by election officials, machine irregularities (indicating possible voting machine manipulation) and spoiled ballots; 3) manipulation after the election to hide possible fraud including poor handling of the recount process (in many precints the recount was never even performed), delaying of the legal process asking for a recount and handling of voting machines after to the election possibly to erase evidence of tally manipulation. It is very interesting reading.

Now, there are explanations for many of these irregularities. For some "debunking" of pieces of the Conyers report see Mark Hertsgaard's article in Mother Jones. It is also worth the read. The main problem that he points out is that many of the examples given in the Conyers report for possible outright fraud are not well substantiated. However, he does note that many of the charges about the semi-legal manipulations by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (who was also the cochair of the Bush campaign in Ohio), including voter roll purges, improper allocation of voting machines and improper denials of voter registration, are fully substantiated and may have had a large effect on the outcome of the election.

While the Conyer's report outlines the many avenues by which fraud may have been conduted in Ohio, in its narrowness of focus it misses a central point: election manipulation likely occured in every battleground state. In an excellent analysis of exit polls Steven Freeman, at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that the odds that exit poll results were as wrong as they were in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania are 662,000-to-one. Interestingly, eight other battle ground states all had skews similar to Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Namely, all the polls predicted Kerry to get more votes than the final tally says he did.

Why were the exit polls so wrong? The only answer that has been given by Mitofsky International (the firm that conducted the polls) is that Republicans were less likely to acquiesce to being polled. What? This doesn't make any sense, and yet it is bandied about in the news media as if it's common sense. Hertsgaard, in his Mother Jones, article even makes a quip along these lines dismissing the exit poll numbers. Will someone please tell me why Republicans in eleven states decided, without consulting each other, to sytematically boycott exit pollsters? Is it that conservatives are private people who are part of the of the "silent majority," and liberals are a bunch of loudmouths ready to spout off the moment they are asked a question? Or is it rather some posthoc, patchwork, explanation for what is a real anomaly?

So what does this all mean? First, it is still unclear whether Bush stole the 2004 election in a technical sense, meaning through outright fraud. However, there are real and unexplained anomalies in the discrepancies between exit polls and election results, indicating that widespread vote-rigging may have occured. Also, it is abundantly clear that his operatives systematically manipulated the electoral process, through questionably legal but certainly unethical means, to maximize his chances of winning. This in itself is problematic, and the lengths to which the evelope was pushed suggests to me that if Bush operatives could get away with more clearly fraudulent activities, they would. If we add up the whole picture: Bush operatives willing to bend election law to the point of breaking it, Bush spying on and labeling dissenting US citizens as threats to US security (see Quakers), Bush's appointment of Supreme Court Justices friendly to Presidential power, and his general use of heavy bullying to silence critics all point to the fact that Bush and his handlers do not actually like Democracy. While I still believe that we are a long way from a Totalitarian state, the erosion of Democracy that we have witnessed during this administration's tenure is disquieting to say the least.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"It's just a goddamned piece of paper"

Yes, the Bush administration is trying to tell us that spying on us will make us safer. With these types of statements, they attempt to distract us away from their full court press to increase presidential power. So along those lines...

Today, in a wide ranging internet search I found several very interesting tidbits of information: Bush, in an end of the year push to get Republicans to support the renewel of the Patriot Act and after facing some oppostion concerning its Constitutionality (yes, many Republicans still believe in the Constitution, and God bless them for it), actually said (screamed apparently)... wait for it... "stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!" Wow, did he just say that? Personally, I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, pro-choice or pro-life, pro-government or pro-business, pro-war or pro-peace, this statement should shake you to the core. It should also unveil the real purpose behind Bush's ordering of NSA spying.

Another bit of info I came across was perhaps just as insidious. In the renewel of the Patriot Act, the same documant that prompted the above outburst from the Bush-man, there is a little known clause that allows for the creation of an actual Federal Police Force, with the power to conduct warantless arrests of any person conducting an "offense against the United States." That sounds like a substantial shift toward the police state, if you ask me. And, not that they didn't have plenty of other reasons but is that why there were Republicans balking at the Patriot Act renewel?

My conclusion, this President needs to be stopped, and impeached if neccessary. Otherwise, we can say goodbye to freedom.