Thursday, September 28, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Mugabe praised as Zambia elects new president

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata praised the policies of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe on Thursday as he voted in a close poll which could see him triumph over the man credited with turning Zambia’s economy around.

Egads. Pity the people of Zambia if the guy who is about to win the presidency thinks that Robert Mugabe represents a model worthy of emulation.

Mugabe’s tenure as President dictator of Zimbabwe counts as one of the unmitigated disasters in global governance of recent decades.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Saudis plan long fence for Iraq border

Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with plans to build a fence to block terrorists from crossing its 560-mile border with Iraq — another sign of growing alarm that Sunni-Shiite strife could spill over and drag Iraq’s neighbors into its civil conflict.

It is interesting to note that in an era of globalization, wherein national boundaries are losing some of their historical significance, that a number of states are building border fences.

Is this a reassertion of national sovereignty or a futile gasp of old-fashion state-centrism? (or something else entirely?)


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By Steven L. Taylor

Count Buckley as someone else who hasn’t been too impressed with Allen of late.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Pete Du Pont in OpinionJournal is alarmed at what college students don’t know:

In the fall of 2024 ISI worked with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy to ask “more than 14,000 randomly selected college freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities across the country”–an average of about 140 each of freshman and seniors on each campus–what they knew about America’s constitutional and governmental history and policies. The colleges ran from state institutions–the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley, for example, to Ivy League schools like Yale, Brown and Harvard, and less-well-known institutions like Grove City College and Appalachian State University.

Some colleges did better than others, but few of them added very much to students’ knowledge of America’s history or government. College freshmen averaged 51.7%, and the seniors averaged 53.2%, so there was a slight gain in knowledge. But the average senior scored only 58.5% on American history questions, slightly above 51% on government and America-and-the-world questions, and 50.5% on market economy questions. By every college’s grading system those are failing grades.

On the one hand, yes: those are poor scores. And yes, one would very much like citizens to have a high level of knowledge about US history and politics–especially if they are going to vote.

Speaking of voting, it strikes me that these rates aren’t all that different from voter turn-out rates (although granted voter turn-out rates measure all citizens, not just college grads). Still, my point is that there is some self-selection going on here.
A lot of people, even smart, educated ones, aren’t all that interested in history and politics.

But wait! you say: being a citizen is more than just about what one is interested in knowing. Well, yes and no. We are biological beings–indeed, that trumps us as political beings. Yet, we are generally quite ignorant about basic biology. It should be no surprise that a good number of people (even educated ones) are ignorant about basic politics.

Further, some of this stuff is, let’s be honest, trivia. While on one level it is ridiculous that students confuse (as many did in the survey) Yorktown with Gettysberg. However, does it really matter in terms of good citizenship, or really much of anything, if a large number of people don’t know the names of key historical battles?

I agree that our general political knowledge is pathetically anemic, but I am not sure it is the crisis that these kinds of columns and surveys make them out to be.

Not surprisingly, part of the issue has to do with the courses students take:

How did these educational failures come to pass? ISI concludes that “students don’t learn what colleges don’t teach.” In other words, in colleges where students must take more courses in American history they do better on the test, outperforming schools where fewer courses were completed. Seniors at the top test-scoring colleges “took an average of 4.2 history and political science courses, while seniors at the two lowest-ranked colleges . . . took an average of 2.9 history and political science courses.” Similarly, higher ranked colleges spent more time on homework, 20 hours a week at fourth-ranked Grove City College and 14 or 15 at low-ranked Georgetown and Berkeley.

It stands to reason that students who take more polisci and history will do better on a test like this than those who take less. However, that issue is harder to remedy than one might think. Schools with rigid general studies curricula already have them packed with any number of subjects, including math, science and comp/lit. To add more history and polisc would mean wresting precious semester hours from one class to add another. This is a difficult thing to do–as curriculum planning is a zero-sum game.

Would I, as a political scientist, like to see students take more polisci classes? Yes, I would. But, so, too, would the math faculty like students to take more math, the English faculty more lit and comp, the science faculty more science and so forth. And each faculty has a legitimate reason for thinking that citizens need to understand their respective fields. However, time is finite (as are the interests and skills of students).

Further, there are self-selection issues here. Some schools have fairly loose general studies requirements, meaning students can choose from a wide array of courses. Even those which have fairly rigid requirements likely allow students to make some choices, like whether to take US history or world history.

In regards to homework, while certainly the work assigned by professors is part of the issue, the main issue there is the motivation of the students.

I would also question the validity of “time spent on homework” as a metric here, as it stands to reason that brighter students (like those admitted to schools like Georgetown and Berkeley) might make more efficient usages of their time than those at other schools–at least in the aggregate. In other words, there is a serious quality/quantity problem here. I have students who clearly need less study time than others. I would also note that focusings on homework hours strikes me as K-12 type of measure.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CQPolitics Ford Pulls Even With Corker in Tennessee Senate Contest:’s list of tossup Senate races continues to grow: The rating on the Tennessee contest for the seat of two-term Republican incumbent Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, has been moved to No Clear Favorite from Leans Republican.


A SurveyUSA poll conducted Sept. 9-11 for NBC television affiliate WBIR in Knoxville found that of 638 likely voters, respondents preferred Ford over Corker 48 to 45 percent with a 4 percent margin of error. The close outcome in this and other independent polls contradicted “own” polls done for the candidates’ campaigns: surveys done for Ford show him with a wide lead, while Corker’s campaign said polls show the Republican well ahead.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: New Hope for Democrats in Bid for Senate

In Virginia, a state that few expected to be seriously competitive, Senator George Allen looks newly vulnerable after a series of controversies over charges of racial insensitivity, strategists in both parties say. In Tennessee, another Southern state long considered safely red, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat, has run a strong campaign that has kept that state in contention.

Elsewhere, Democratic challengers are either ahead or close in races in five states held by the Republicans: Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, according to political strategists in both parties and the latest polls.

All of these races could shift direction in a matter of days, let alone six weeks, and Republicans are counting on their superior finances and large blocks of television advertising to hold the line. Democrats also have their own vulnerabilities, particularly in New Jersey, where Senator Robert Menendez is in a tight race with his Republican challenger, State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., according to recent polls.

Democrats must win six Republican seats to regain a Senate majority, meaning they would have to win nearly every close race. Even the most optimistic Democrats acknowledge that such a feat would require a big anti-Republican wave, a lot of money and a lot of luck.

Still, a shift in the Senate was always considered a long shot this year. Some analysts now say, however, that there are enough Republican seats facing serious challenges to make it at least plausible.

There is plenty here to give GOP strategists heartburn between now and November.

The most shocking of all the competitive seats is NJ–where the latest polls do indicates that Kean can win. And it does appear that Allen is quite vulnerable in VA.

Despite the Times‘ classification of the Tennessee race as “unexpected” I am not all that surprised by the development. First, it is an open seat. Second, Harold Ford is an attractive, moderate candidate. Throw in the fact that the general political climate is anti-Republican and the fact that his opponent is facing competence question. Further, according to Tennessee resident Glenn Reynolds, Corker isn’t running a very impressive campaign.

Here are Rasmussen’s numbers on the Senate, which places three seats as “toss-ups”: NJ, TN and MO with the the other seats breaking 49-48 in favor of the Republicans.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Speaking of gasoline, I saw it for $1.99 today.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: 7-Eleven drops Citgo as gas supplier

7-Eleven Inc. dropped Venezuela-owned Citgo as its gasoline supplier after more than 20 years as part of a previously announced plan by the convenience store operator to launch its own brand of fuel.

7-Eleven officials said Wednesday that the decision was partly motivated by politics.

Citgo Petroleum Corp. is a Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-run oil company and 7-Eleven is worried that anti-American comments made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might prompt motorists to fill-up elsewhere.

Of course, one guesses that most consumers have no idea that PDVSA owns Citgo.

I guess the devil in the details.

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By Steven L. Taylor

The thing that I find most frustrating about the current debate over the National Intelligence Estimate is that both sides are being disingenuous and engaging in the politics of spin. One side likes the leaked portions, because it supports their position, the other side likes the parts the President declassified for the same reason. Even if the whole the document was released, both sides would simply cherry-pick the part that they liked best. (Although, like others, I see no reason in not releasing the whole document).

And ultimately, what is the NIE really worth? I would argue that is it worth far less than the current argument would make it out to be. It isn’t like the information within them is golden or that our intelligence agencies have a fabulous track record of predicting the future (or, for that matter, assessing the present–indeed, the words “slam dunk” come to mind). As James Joyner noted the other day:

One would be remiss for failing to note that these are the same intelligence agencies who failed to predict the Iranian Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in the Balkans, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, the 9/11 attacks, London bombings, Madrid bombings, and other major events.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Writes Richard Minter in today’s WSJ

The question, then, is whether America should return to Mr. Clinton’s policies or soldier on with Mr. Bush’s.

He asks this in the context of the debate that has emerged over the last several days as a result of the Clinton interview with Chris Wallace. And in terms of the policies he means:

every George W. Bush policy that arouses the ire of Democrats–the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, detention without trial, pre-emptive war–is a departure from his predecessor. Where policies overlap–air attacks on infrastructure, secret presidential orders to kill terrorists, intelligence sharing with allies, freezing bank accounts, using police to arrest terror suspects–there is little friction.

Those lines hardly encompass the entire universe of anti-terrorism policies.

How is it that the choice has to be between the general inaction of the Clinton of the administration, and the over-reaction of the Bush administration?

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