Weekly Roundup 11/7/2011

A year from election day 2012, a dark mood awaits Obama and his GOP rival
Dan Balz, Jon Cohen and Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Is Obama Toast? Handicapping the 2012 Election
Nate Silver, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Nov. 6, 2012

Synopsis: The American electorate is troubled about the economy, sharply polarized, frustrated with President Obama and disaffected with the Republican Party, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published one year before the 2012 election. In hypothetical matchups, Obama leads each of the three top GOP hopefuls – Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Rick Perry – according to the survey even though a majority (53 percent) disapprove of the way he is handling the presidency. In a separate article, Balz, the Post’s chief political writer, analyzes what he calls the “strange” race for the Republican nomination. An accompanying graphic shows the schedule for presidential primaries and caucuses beginning with Iowa on Jan. 3. Meanwhile, Nate Silver, editor of the The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, concludes from statistics-based handicapping that Obama’s chances of re-election rise or fall depending on economic trends.

Takeaway: “It will be an intensely negative and bitter campaign,” a GOP congressman tells the Post. “And that will complicate things enormously for the winner . . . .”

With economic issues front and center in voters’ minds, here are some CQ Researcher reports worth a look: Marcia Clemmitt, National Debt, March 18, 2011; Peter Katel, “Jobs Outlook,” June 4, 2010.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


When ‘thank you for your service’ falls flat
Phillip Carter, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Don’t know what to say to veterans? Just listen
Paula J. Caplan, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Veterans Day this year follows President Obama’s announcement of that the U.S. military will leave Iraq by the end of the year’s end. As a long and deadly war nears its end-point, and with withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled in 2014, the spotlight turns to veterans and the futures they face. (CQ Researcher reported in September on the slow-motion crisis of suicide in the active-duty military and among veterans.). Iraq veteran Carter writes movingly and thoughtfully of his efforts to come to terms with the cliché civilian greeting for Iraq-Afghanistan veterans. Caplan, a psychologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, proposes one way of bridging the divide between veterans and civilians that marks American life. Veterans make up a small fraction of the population. And their experiences, both writers note, threaten to isolate them from the country whose uniform they wore.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)
Christopher Drew, The New York Times, Nov. 4, 2011

Synopsis: This just in: College classes in hard science are hard. It’s fashionable to blame poor middle- and high-school preparation for the low number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grads. But new studies show that the pipeline leaks steadily as it wends its way through college. How to change that? Might better college teaching help more students persist? Smaller classes? An atmosphere less focused on cutthroat competition, which is a special problem in pre-med studies? A greater emphasis in families and on the principle that hard work can be its own reward? No one knows for sure. Some, however, suggest one thing that might help: sprucing up freshman and sophomore STEM curricula to include interesting research projects -- similar to many middle- and high-school programs – rather than feeding aspiring STEM-ers a steady diet of 500-seat lecture courses that ignore the applied side of STEM disciplines.

Takeaway: “The National Science Board, a public advisory body, warned in the mid-1980s that students were losing sight of why they wanted to be scientists and engineers in the first place. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures,” writes Drew.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer