Crude, rhetoric-roasted peanuts!

Gasoline prices burned a hole in the wallets of most Americans over the summer, and McCain attempted to use this problem against Obama by highlighting Democratic support for an offshore drilling moratorium. McCain’s, “Drill baby, drill,” refrain sloshed bold and black into newsprint and e-print. It coated the tongues of conservative commentators and oozed into the halls of Congress. Even Obama eventually slipped on the slick, adding an offshore drilling provision to his energy platform.

With the U.S. Presidential Election mere days away, I thought it prudent to douse the burning offshore oil debate with cold, liquid facts. The U.S. consumes about 20.8 mega barrels of oil per day. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that the moratorium zone contains 15.8 giga barrels of crude. If true, oil from the moratorium zone would only supply U.S. demand for 2 years and 1 month. One might argue that further exploration could lead the EIA to raise its estimates. But, how much more might one reasonably expect? Is 10% reasonable? Is 25%? Or, maybe, you think 100% might be reasonable. Even in the final case, the moratorium zone only supplies US demand for less than 5 years.

Anyone with a shred of common sense and access to Energy Information Agency (EIA) data could have evaluated McCain’s proposal and put it to rest in under an hour. Drilling the moratorium zone begets a trickle of oil that starts flowing in 5+ years. Crude, rhetoric-roasted peanuts!

Chattanooga

A fun day in Chattanooga to celebrate Michelle’s fourth birthday. Here are some photographs from the Tennessee aquarium and Tennessee river gorge.

For Michelle’s fourth birthday, we decided to take the day off and take her to Chattanooga, about 2 hours drive away.

Here are some photographs from the Tennessee Aquarium. We have been to the Georgia Aquarium lots of times and that is huge. Tennessee aquarium is smaller, nothing on the scale of the one in Atlanta, but I think children like it better. Michelle was running from one display to another and showing us all the marine life.

 

We also cruised the Tennessee River Gorge aboard a boat.

 

When we got off the boat, it had started raining. So we went to Hennen’s for dinner. Michelle was tired, but we had a nice dinner, followed by a chocolate cake and ice cream complete with candle on top to celebrate Michelle turning four.

Electoral Vote Predictors

There are so many sites predicting the results of the Presidential, Senate and House elections, some using statistical techniques, others their intuition. Here are some of my favorites.

Being a political junkie means I follow polls and electoral projections. Add to it the nerd factor and I love to see all sorts of prediction algorithms used to figure out the electoral votes for Obama and McCain.

The best such site is Pollster.com which is very comprehensive and now with their flash applications very customizable too. You can even embed their poll trend graphs on your own website. They use LOESS local regression to calculate the current vote share for the candidates.

In 2004, I discovered Electoral-Vote.com which is run by Andrew Tanenbaum who I knew because of his Computer Science textbooks.

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

I like the Princeton Election Consortium site because not only do they provide details of their methods but also their code.

FiveThirtyEight weights pollsters by reliability and also takes into account the demographics of each state for their projection.

RealClear Politics averages recent polls to arrive at their electoral map.

Andrea Moro uses statistical simulations to assign the winner for each state.

Finally, 3BlueDudes has a huge list of election projection websites.

Vice President Debate

I watched the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden at 37,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and a day late.

I think Biden was the clear winner, though Palin didn’t do as bad as was expected considering her interview performances. She did repeat a lot of talking points, but wasn’t half-bad.

The debate’s most prominent aspect was how all the answers were completely unresponsive to the questions asked. Usually there is some effort by the candidates to go off-topic but this debate was really bad in that regard.

One thing that I didn’t understand at all was Palin’s statement that:

We have to fight for our freedoms, also, economic and our national security freedoms.

What exactly are national security freedoms?

You can watch the VP debate online or read the transcript.

Being jetlagged, I still haven’t watched the second Obama-McCain debate.

Torture and Public Opinion

Let’s take a look at opinion polls about torture. Who supports torture? Which groups are for or against torture? Why isn’t the Bush administration’s pro-torture conduct an issue in the election?

It was heartening to hear the following from Senator McCain at the first debate especially after his support for allowing the CIA to use torture during interrogations.

I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay. […] And we’ve got to — to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.

And Obama said:

And this is the greatest country on Earth. But because of some of the mistakes that have been made — and I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue, for having identified that as something that undermines our long-term security — because of those things, we, I think, are going to have a lot of work to do in the next administration to restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.

To my utter dismay, torture hasn’t become an issue in the US election. Today I want to focus on how popular or unpopular torture has been among the people of the United States and the world, which explains why Senator Obama hasn’t brought up the use of torture by the Bush administration more often and why Senator McCain has been sliding away from his opposition to torture.

Here is a poll from May 2004.

Given pro and con arguments, 63 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say torture is never acceptable, even when other methods fail and authorities believe the suspect has information that could prevent terrorist attacks. Thirty-five percent say torture is acceptable in some such cases.

There’s more of a division, though, on physical abuse that falls short of torture: Forty-six percent say it’s acceptable in some cases, while 52 percent say not.

Majorities identify three specific coercive practices as acceptable: sleep deprivation (66 percent call it acceptable), hooding (57 percent) and “noise bombing” (54 percent), in which a suspect is subjected to loud noises for long periods.

Far fewer Americans accept other practices. Four in 10 call it acceptable to threaten to shoot a suspect, or expose a suspect to extreme heat or cold. Punching or kicking is deemed acceptable by 29 percent. And 16 percent call sexual humiliation — alleged to have occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — acceptable in some cases.

[…] Whatever their personal tolerance for various practices, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is employing torture “as a matter of policy” as part of the war against terrorism. And two-thirds think the government is using physical abuse that stops short of torture.

[…] Regarding the Abu Ghraib case, which has resulted in charges against some U.S. soldiers and calls for congressional investigations, the public is twice as likely to see what occurred there as abuse (60 percent) rather than torture (29 percent).

In December 2005, an opinion poll tried to measure attitudes to torture around the world.

In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.

[…] In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.

A Harris Poll in December 2005 makes the American populace look quite pro-torture.

55 percent of all adults believe that rendition is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (41%), when interrogating suspected terrorists. 60 percent of adults believe that the use of “secret prison camps in Europe or elsewhere” is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (46%). 52 percent of all adults believe that the use of torture is justified either often (12%) or sometimes (40%).

82 percent of all adults believe that the U.S. uses rendition, as defined above, often (25%) or sometimes (58%). 81 percent believes that the U.S. uses secret prison camps outside the country often (23 ) or sometimes (58). 83 percent believe that the U.S. uses torture often (17%) or sometimes (66%).

At least it seems that the public doesn’t take Bush’s statements about “we do not torture” at face value.

A BBC Global Poll in October 2006 found that majorities in 19 countries are in favor of clear rules against torture. In order of decreasing popularity, those countries are Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Chile, Brazil, United States, Philippines, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, Indonesia. Note the position of the United States in that list; it’s near the bottom with developing countries. torture is more popular here than in most of the developed world.

There are some uncivilized countries where there is no clear majority for or against torture: Israel (43-48), Nigeria (39-49), Russia (37-43), China (37-49), India (32-23), and Mexico (24-50).

According to a CNN poll of the US in November 2007,

Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.

Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.

In the procedure, water is used on restrained prisoners to make them feel like they are drowning.

A World Public Opinion Poll in June 2008 found that:

A WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of 19 nations finds that in 14 of them most people favor an unequivocal rule against torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. Four nations lean toward favoring an exception in the case of terrorists.

However, large majorities in all 19 nations favor a general prohibition against torture. In all nations polled, the number saying that the government should generally be able to use torture is less than one in five.

On average across all nations polled, 57 percent opt for unequivocal rules against torture. Thirty-five percent favor an exception when innocent lives are at risk. Just 9 percent favor the government being able to use torture in general.

The four publics that favor an exception for terrorists when innocent lives are at risk include majorities in India (59%), Nigeria (54%), and Turkey (51%), and a plurality in Thailand (44%).

Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%). South Koreans are divided.

Again, notice where US public opinion lies. Near Russia, Egypt and Azerbaijan! Is that what we aspire to be? As Andrew Sullivan said:

So America’s peers in the fight against torture, in terms of public opinion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia, and Iran. This is what America now is: a country with the moral values of countries that routinely torture and abuse prisoners, like Egypt and Iran. Even the Chinese, living in a neo-fascist market state, oppose torture in all circumstances by 66 percent, compared to Americans where only 53 percent do! More horrifying: a higher percentage of Americans – 13 percent – believe that torture should generally be allowed than in any other country save China, Turkey and Nigeria. And in the last two years, as the American president celebrates and authorizes the torture of people who have not been allowed a fair trail, support for torturing terror suspects has increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.

Why are so many Americans morally bankrupt about torture now? It turns out it might be the fault of the religious, or more specifically the Southern Evangelicals.

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

[…] The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

[…] Pollsters also found that 53 percent of white Southern evangelicals believe the government uses torture in its anti-terrorism campaign, despite claims by government officials to the contrary. About one-third, or 32 percent, said the government does not use torture as a matter of policy.

Wow, so a majority of white Southern evangelicals are not only pro-torture, but they do not rely on Christian teachings either. Who would have thought they would be so immoral?

Eid and Rosh Hashanah

Eid Mubarak and Shanah Tovah!

Here in Atlanta, Eid is today. We wish everyone a very happy Eid. Eid Mubarak to you!

The Jewish new year started at sundown last night. So Eid and Rosh Hashanah are on the same day. Shanah Tovah, everyone!

Liveblogging Presidential Debate I

I am liveblogging the first Presidential debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain. It was supposed to be about foreign policy and national security, but there have been questions about the fiscal crisis.

For a while there, it looked like this debate might not happen with McCain “suspending” his campaign.

The first question about debates is: Do they matter? According to Mark Blumenthal, there is a great potential for debates to influence public opinion because they are watched by so many people.

Four years ago, according to Nielsen Media Research, 62.5 million Americans watched the first debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush. That fell short of the record 80.6 million that saw Ronald Reagan debate Jimmy Carter in 1980, but it was an enormous audience nonetheless.

Tom Holbrook looked at all Presidential debates from 1988 to 2004 and found that:

Across all thirteen presidential debates the average absolute change in candidate support was 1 percentage point. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. Two that stand out are the second debate in 1992, following which George H.W. Bush lost 2 points, and first debate of 2004, after which George W. Bush lost 2.26 points.

Gallup also looked at debates in 1960 and 1976-2004 and found that debates have little impact.

In two election years, the presidential debates may have had a meaningful impact on the structure of the presidential races; in most others, they probably have not. The debates were less likely to be catalyst events in years when one candidate was a strong front-runner, including 1984, 1988, and 1996. However, in highly competitive election years, any movement in voter preferences can be race altering, and the debates seem to have the potential to produce such movement. The probable examples of this are 1960 and 2000.

I am looking forward to this debate as it is focused on foreign policy and national security, topics that have receded into the background due to economic turmoil but where McCain inexplicably holds a lead despite his crazy war-like ideas.

9:02pm: I just finished calling voters for the Obama campaign with a number of other volunteers. Now I am watching the debate with 15 other people on MSNBC.

9:06pm: First question is about the financial crisis. Obama going first. Worst crisis since Great Depression. Move swiftly and wisely. Oversight. Helping homeowners. Bush policies, supported by McCain, responsible.

McCain starts with Kennedy being in the hospital. McCain not feeling too great about things lately. Republicans and Democrats together. End of the beginning of the crisis.

9:10pm: Lehrer asked about voting on the plan. Both Obama and McCain try to steer discussion away.

9:12pm: Obama brings up McCain’s statement of 10 days ago about economic fundamentals being good.

9:14pm: McCain criticizing Republican spending.

9:16pm: Obama compares scale of earmarks with McCain’s tax proposal cost.

9:21pm: McCain is stuck on earmarks.

9:27pm: Indepence from oil would be good but what is this foreign oil independence Obama’s talking about?

9:29pm: McCain comes back to cutting spending.

9:35pm: Did McCain just oppose foreign aid?

9:38pm: Obama ties McCain to Bush spending. McCain mentions not winning Miss Congeniality for the second time.

9:39pm: Finally, Iraq!

Obama brings back the question of lessons of Iraq to whether we should have gone to war in the first place. Have to use military wisely.

McCain says next President won’t be deciding decision to go to Iraq.

9:44pm: Why is McCain making faces and smirking so much?

9:47pm: Can everyone stop kissing General Petraeus’s ass?

9:50pm: Now on to Afghanistan. Obama argues for more troops. Did Obama just pronounce Taliban correctly? Iraq had no al-Qaeda. Iraq war a strategic mistake. Afghanistan and Pakistan. Got to deal with Pakistan. Safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan not doing enough to get rid of them.

9:53pm: McCain says don’t say out loud about attacking Pakistan. Same strategy as Iraq.

9:56pm: Obama mentions McCain’s song about “Bomb, bomb Iran.”

9:57pm: Obama says we coddled Musharraf and alienated Pakistani people. McCain replies that Pakistan was a failed state when Musharraf came to power.

10:00pm: McCain and Obama are trading stories of soldiers killed in action. WTF?

10:03pm: McCain Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is an existential threat to Israel. Mentions Holocaust. Whatever happened to Israel’s nuclear weapons? McCain talks about League of Democracies. Wow, France is a democracy now. Iranian nuclear weapons are threat around the world.

10:06pm: Obama says Iran has gained lots of influence due to Iraq war. Cannot tolerate nuclear Iran. Arms race in Middle East. Cooperation needed from Russia and China for sanctions. Engage in tough diplomacy with Iran.

10:08pm: How does talking to Ahmedinijad legitimize him? Did Reagan never talk to Brezhnev? That sounds wrong.

10:10pm: Obama citing Kissinger approvingly. I feel like ewww but have to admit Kissinger is right on talking to Iran.

10:12pm: Obama mentions McCain not meeting with Spanish Prime Minister. McCain in response tries to joke about the Presidential seal replica from the Obama primary campaign.

10:16pm: Obama says Russia has to withdraw from South Osettia and Abkhazia. Membership action plan for Ukraine and Georgia: Why, Obama, why? Obama doesn’t want cold war posture with Russia.

McCain says Obama is naive. McCain wants to bolster friends and allies. Talks about oil.

10:20pm: McCain has mentioned his trips to a lot of countries today.

10:23pm: Why did Obama have to mention “clean coal”? Arrrgh!

10:26pm: Stupidest question today: Chance of another 9/11 attack on the US? McCain says much less. McCain just came out against torture. Good for him!

10:29pm: Obama comes out against nuclear suitcases? What about nuclear backpacks? The point about nuclear proliferation is good though.

Obama also mentions torture.

10:31pm: McCain goes back to Iraq with a totally wrong but strong ending.

Obama mentions al-Qaeda and challenges with China and both being neglected due to focus on Iraq. Blames Iraq war for autism too! Too scattershot for a strong summing up.

10:34pm: McCain is now talking again, destroying the impression I had of his strong ending.

10:36pm: And finally McCain mentions his POW status.

I would rate it a draw. Obama didn’t land any knockout punches.

12:47am: CBS News poll of undecided voters:

Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.

Sixty-six percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-two percent think McCain would.

Forty-eight percent of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. Fifty-six percent think McCain would.

That sounds good for Obama.

1:23am: CNN’s polling is even better.

You can watch the debate online or read the transcript.