- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

Iraq death toll study

There have been many critiques of our research, published in the Lancet 15 months ago, but none was more off the mark than Richard Miniter’s (“Fabricated death toll,” Op-Ed, Thursday).

Our randomized field research uses standard methods to identify an estimated 98,000 excess deaths in Iraq in the 15 months since the 2003 invasion. Mr. Miniter says we didn’t ask for death certificates, instead trusting Iraqis to tell the truth. Wrong.

The Lancet paper states that death certificates were asked for, and confirmed 80 percent of the reported deaths. He claims that we gathered information on deaths to distant relatives. Wrong. Only people living at sampled houses in January 2003 were included in the sample.

He says the sample was not random, as we were unable to recruit enough people from randomly chosen clusters. Yet this was never the case, as is shown by the detailed data we published. Mr. Miniter says that our sample was further biased by including data from the cluster in Fallujah which reported the most deaths. We make pains to clarify that all statistical analysis excluded these Fallujah data since it were so different form the rest of the sample.

Mr. Miniter says a fair-minded observer would have to conclude that our study was pure “political science.” Frankly, it seems that he didn’t even read the report before publishing his critique. It seems that our research has struck a chord with the public since commentators are still trying to discredit our findings.

It would be better to focus now on reducing harm to Iraqi civilians, and finding out how many more have died, than continuing to shoot the messenger of bad news now more than a year old.

RICHARD GARFIELD

Professor

Columbia University

New York

Handgun ban missed the mark

Debra J. Saunders (“Gun ban off-target,” Commentary, Sunday) points out exactly the problem with gun control that advocates continuously fail to see when she writes, “While City Hall hasn’t set what the sentence for violations of the law, whatever it is, the handgun ban likely will hurt law-abiding citizens more than criminals.” The people who will most effectively be blocked from purchasing and owning a gun are people who are inclined to follow the law in the first place. And people who aren’t inclined to obey the law, who might use that handgun for criminal activity, would hardly be dissuaded from possessing a handgun because to do so is illegal.

Such criminals would only be assured that the innocent citizens they intend to rob do not have a gun. The example of an AK-47, a banned gun, being used to kill a police officer is an effective example.

The recent increase in crime in San Francisco is terrible, but there are better and more effective ways of bringing it under control. Washington passed a gun restriction in the 1970s to combat violent crime, and the number of guns declined but the murder rate didn’t.

As much as a city like Boston will hold its low violent crime rate as a result of restrictive gun policy, there is no convincing before and after evidence to show that the gun ban by itself was responsible for that lack of crime.

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani showed that there is a way to get tough on crime and really clean up a city. His policies should serve as an example for other cities that want to do the same.

I sympathize with the citizens of San Francisco: They simply want a safer city — isn’t that a fair request? But if passing a ban that even the mayor believes will fail in court is the best solution the city has, then I worry that the crime rate will not be reduced in the immediate future. Not only is this an infringement on Second Amendment rights, it is an infringement without the benefit of increased public safety.

JUSTIN SMITH

New York

Wal-Mart’s role in the economy

It is moderately interesting that columnist Michael Barone thinks that “nimble” companies like Wal-Mart can replace their more “static” counterparts like General Motors as pillars of American prosperity (“The Wal-Mart model,” Commentary, Wednesday).

But surely it is far more interesting and actually important that Wal-Mart itself completely disagrees. As Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott told a New York Times reporter last May, “Some well-meaning critics believe that Wal-Mart, because of our size, should play the role that General Motors played after World War II, and that is to establish the post-world war middle-class that the country is so proud of. The facts are that retailing doesn’t perform that role in the economy as GM does or did. Retailing doesn’t perform that role in any country in the world.”

Unless Mr. Barone thinks that our nation can be prosperous without a big middle class? I’ll be anxiously awaiting his attempt to make that argument.

ALAN TONELSON

Research fellow

U.S. Business and Industry Council

Educational Foundation

Washington

In his Wednesday Commentary, “The Wal-Mart model,” Michael Barone wrote, “General Motors’ business model was designed for a static economy; Wal-Mart’s is for a dynamic economy.”

What is so bad about a static economy? During the 1950s and ‘60s, hard work and loyalty to an employer were rewarded with lifetime employment, a decent income, health coverage and a good pension. Now, anyone can be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all, other than the further enrichment of business executives and stock owners.

Most of those who lose their jobs, as I have, are forced to take jobs paying quite a bit less than they were used to earning. A better term for a dynamic economy is “casino capitalism.” As in a casino, this model’s odds are against most of the participants.

JOHN ENGELMAN

Wilmington, Del.

Necessary wiretapping

Nat Hentoff (“Expanding presidential powers,” Op-Ed, yesterday) and virtually everyone else writing about this issue of National Security Agency wiretapping is missing the key reason why President Bush has to go this route.

The NSA is “mining” for information and when its computers find relevant words or phrases, that data is pulled for further review. It would be impossible to get court authorization through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, whether ahead of time or 72 hours later. The FISA was not set up to oversee this type of function. There is no probable cause, no specific person or entity to get authorization to wiretap; they are mining for information. The solution to this is to enact legislation to oversee this vital function so our country can remain safe.

The question is: Do we want to have our president ignore this service function available to the NSA (mining of trillions of pieces of electronic communications data) and risk having a highly altered American lifestyle when terrorism strikes every few weeks, months or years on U.S. soil, or address the issue of using every available tool?

My guess is that everyone who has a problem with this would change their attitude 180 degrees the day that a member of their family was hit by a terrorist bomb while walking on a downtown street.

This is serious. Our entire lifestyle and economy were altered dramatically by September 11. Our stock market, our travel and vacation industries, the health of hundreds of businesses and industries were affected for months and years by one attack. If we get attacked randomly in the future, every few months, the United States will not stay a superpower, and none of us will recognize the country we will become. Our freedoms will be restricted, our economy will become less dynamic, waiting for the next attack. The president is doing the right thing given the laws as they stand. Let’s change the laws.

JOHN LEWIS

Cornelius, N.C.

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