Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gerrymandering video!

Here is a very good gerrymandering video that explains it all!


Gerrymandering has been here in the country towards the very beginning, and is a good example of something that is unavoidable in government. Somethings cannot be helped but be used in this game we call politics. From the beginning, in order to create change, one must choose a side. Neutral gets people no where. This problem of having to choose sides is where gerrymandering comes from, because its all about manipulating the people around you so that your "side" has better players. After reading the article and watching the documentary, I have come to the conclusion that gerrymandering is the winner's reward, since both sides have the chance to get that benefit. Gerrymandering isn't agreeable and is very low, but hey, that's politics. Everything is about underhand deals and working the people you know to get where you want to be. Stuff like manipulating the public to your advantage is almost expected. So gerrymandering doesn't seem like a problem. Only the ones who don't get to choose whine about it. I don't think it should be changed, since it has served us pretty well. Its an unwritten benefit of being the majority. Nothing else to it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gerrymandering Documentary

One of the things we mentioned in class was how overwhelmingly "popular" the incumbent always seems to be in Congressional races, the video it specifically uses the example of a 70%-30% race, which makes it basically impossible for anyone but the incumbent to win. I was very surprised by the amount of people that had no idea what gerrymandering even is, considering most people have to take a class on government at some point in high school. I was also surprised to hear Gerrymandering dates back to the days of the country's founding fathers. Before the video I was naive to the amount of time gerrymandering had been around, but it certainly does make sense that the founding fathers did it, considering they trusted very few of the voters. The Gerrymandering concept is a tough one to tackle, and something should be changed, but the question is, "what?" One thing that I think could change is for a potential incumbent to not have authority over drawing the district lines, maybe for an independent third party to step in and have to approve it or do the redistricting itself. Another possible option is for a handful of other congressmen or to have the people themselves approve or disapprove the redistricting. Politics appears to be much more of a "contact sport" than what I anticipated with the "not letting another f***ing Asian in the district" and whatnot.


The "Gerrymander" law was established in order to ensure that the state in its entirety is represented in the House of Reps, but instead it turned into a political battle for who can tweak the system to make it easiest for himself. I agree that this is one of the unintended consequences of the law in that the law must have been passed assuming that the politicians would hold themselves to a higher standard. The fact that the congressman have been able to play with the system once a decade to ensure reelection makes sense of the fact that Congress has become more polarized and less moderate. If the district lines were drawn at random, as normal shapes (as the state borders are drawn) I believe that the candidates for congress would be more inclined to stay moderate to have to appeal to a more broad demographic, and it would also give any possible challengers a decent chance to win.
There is nothing in the Constitution that bans the act of Gerrymandering, so I do believe that it is constitutional, but that certainly does not make it an OK thing to do. Like I said before, I think the founders, among others, held the politicians to a higher standard and therefore did not expect something like this to happen.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

1st post of 2nd semester--Gerrymandering!

Welcome to our very first Silvy's AP Government Blog post of 2nd semester! As we've been talking about in class for the past couple of days, the topic of this discussion will be Congressional Redistricting and, in particular, Gerrymandering. (Sorry again that the online Redistricting Game didn't work out for us, but what I'm giving you to read and watch should still give you a great sense of how IMPORTANT, how CONTROVERSIAL, and yet how UNDERAPPRECIATED this issue is!

First of all, click here to go that New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin about "The Great Election Grab" that followed the 2000 census. Many of you were able to read this article in class this week, but if you need to, look over it again and then consider these questions:
  • Why does Toobin describe the Supreme Court decision of Baker v. Carr as well as the Voting Rights Act as "classic demonstration[s] of the law of unintended consequences?" Do you agree with this analysis? Why/why not?
  • According to Toobin, why has gerrymandering led to House members of both parties becoming more extreme and less moderate, less willing to work with members of the other party? Do you agree with this analysis? Why/why not?
  • I realize you may not have all the context and background when it comes to the legal rationale and opinions on this issue, but based at least on this article and what we've talked about in class, do you think that this type of gerrymandering is indeed unconstitutional and should the Supreme Court do something about it? Why/why not?
Next, I have a documentary film for you to watch, called simply "Gerrymandering," which does a great job of explaining the history of gerrymandering, how it's been used to the advantage and disadvantage of both parties, some of the reasons why it's done and some of the unintended consequences. The film is a little over an hour long, so if you're not able to watch the entire thing in one sitting that's fine; you can watch one segment, then come back at another time to watch the next segments, etc.  Click here to watch the film, then consider these questions:
  • What are some things mentioned in the film that connect with concepts or issues we've discussed in class?
  • What were 1-2 things mentioned in the film that struck you as the most surprising, most troubling, or simply stood out to you the most?
  • After watching the film, do you think the situation of gerrymandering in Congressional redistricting can and/or should be changed? If so, do you have any ideas about HOW it could be changed?
  • Please share any other thoughts, comments, or reactions to the film!
Remember, by the end of the day next Friday, March 9th, each of you must post TWO (2) comments to this blog. Your first comment should address the questions I've posed above as well as any other thoughts you may wish to express about the New Yorker article, the documentary film, or gerrymandering in general; the second comment should be your agreement or disagreement with a comment made by one of your classmates.  I encourage you to be as articulate and passionate as you can in expressing your opinions, but I also ask you to be respectful, especially when responding to your classmates--as I said at the start of the semester, I hope we can "disagree without being disagreeable." Have fun, good luck, and I look forward to reading your comments!

-Silvy :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Final Post--First Amendment!!

Well, we're getting closer and closer to the end of the semester (sniff...!), but first (no pun intended!) we're gonna tackle one more tricky topic, the First Amendment--specifically the Establishment Clause and the issue of "church & state" and how--as Mr. Mueller told you all last week--that issue gets even trickier when dealing with the setting of a public school.

You read an excerpt from "The Nine" that described some cases from the 1990s and early 2000s dealing with 'religion in the public square' and we discussed those in class earlier this week, but for these blog comments we're going to look at some much more recent instances of controversy arising around religion in schools--is it about Government Establishment of Religion or is it about Free Speech?

Click Here for a New York Times article that describes many recent cases in which students, teachers, or administrators have been criticized for to some degree bringing religious activities into the public school setting. In some cases they wound up being punished for it; in others they simply stopped doing whatever they were doing and as a result faced no tangible consequence.  After reading the article, consider the following questions:
  • Of all the situations described in the article, which one did you find the MOST troubling? Or put another way, which one struck you as the most obviously unconstitutional? Why?
  • Of all the situations described in the article, which one did you find the LEAST troubling (which would you consider the 'safest' in terms of its constitutionality)? Why?
  • What were some similarities or connections you noticed between any of the situations described in the article and any of the discussions we've had in class, either with me or from the day Mr. Mueller was there?
In addition to reading that article, I'd also like you to watch a few short video clips before posting your comments.  First, Click Here to watch a segment from Fox News about a Texas elementary school in which students were prohibited from passing out candy canes at a holiday party because there were notes attached to the candy canes that had religious messages on them.
  • I realize you don't have all the background or context and you're basing it just on having watched this short video, but what was your take on this situation? Do you think the school did the right thing?
  • Which of the two guests on the show did you think made the stronger argument? Why?
The last story deals with something that happened--also in Texas--just last year. The valedictorian at a high school near San Antonio wanted to include a short prayer in her graduation speech and say "Amen" at the end. The family of an agnostic student objected and filed suit to prevent her from including this religious content in her speech. At first a judge ruled in favor of the agnostic student, but on the day of the graduation the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and ruled in favor of the valedictorian, so she was able to give the speech she wanted to. Click Here to watch a short CNN interview with the agnostic student who objected as well as his mother, and Click Here to watch a short interview with the valedictorian and her lawyer.
  • What was your take on this situation?  Did you find yourself agreeing more with Ms. Hildenbrand (the valedictorian) or with the Schultz family (who filed the original suit)? Why?
  • If the Class of 2012 valedictorian at CHS wanted to include a prayer in his/her speech this June at your graduation, would you have a problem with it? Why/why not?
Remember, TWO comments per student. The first one is for you to answer all the bullet point questions above about the NY Times article and the videos, and the second comment is for you to agree/disagree with something one of your classmates has posted.  As long as your comments are posted by the end of the day on which you take your final (Tuesday for 1st period, Wednesday for 4th), you're good.  Thanks for a FANTASTIC semester, I can't wait to read your comments, and I hope you stay interested in these issues and all things relating to government and politics long after you finish our class!

Silvy :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Even though we've finished up with Congress and moved on to the Executive Branch, there have been some very important current events lately involving our Legislative Branch about which I felt it was important that you all have the opportunity to become educated and then comment on.

Remember during the chapter on Congress when you read about the different types of committees that exist (standing, select, joint, etc.)? Well, a couple of these categories were recently combined when, as part of a debt-reduction agreement that was reached earlier this year, Congress established the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the "Super-Committee," made up of 6 members of the House (3 Democrats & 3 Republicans) as well as 6 Senators (also 3 from each party).

The Committee was charged with figuring out how to reduce the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, with the understanding that if they did not, a so-called "trigger mechanism" would be enacted that would impose automatic across-the-board spending cuts of over $1 trillion, on everything from domestic social welfare programs, to foreign aid, even to the military. Quite an incentive to figure out how to work together and come to an agreement, no?!

Click here for a Google Doc that explains in relatively concise terms exactly what this 'Super-Committee' is, how it came about, what it was designed to do, and why. This "fact sheet" is not entirely objective; it comes from the National League of Cities, and so the "we" it refers to underscores the importance of the Super-Committee's actions to state and local government funding. Even though it comes from that perspective, however, I would say the explanation is still basically politically neutral and doesn't really favor the views of one party or the other.

Suffice to say that over Thanksgiving Break, it became clear that these 12 members of Congress would be unable to accomplish their mission, and now--as often happens in politics--each side is blaming the other for that failure. Below are links to three different opinion pieces published online in the past week or so that I would like you to read; the first blames Democrats on the committee, the second lays blame on super-committee Republicans, and the third actually points the finger at President Obama.

Now I realize that, even though we've referred to some of these issues and ideas in a peripheral way in class from time to time, you may not have sufficient background knowledge or context about all of this for everything to make perfect sense. Still, just do the best you can, and after reading the explanation of what the Super-Committee is as well as those 3 opinion pieces, please answer the following questions in your posted comments:
  • Do you think it is important to reduce our federal deficit? Why?
  • How important is this issue to you, i.e., are there other issues facing our country today that you feel are significantly more or less important than this one?
  • Do you think something like the 'Super-Committee' is a good idea, in which Congress is more or less forced to act in addressing our federal deficit? Why (not)?
  • Which of the 3 articles do you think made the strongest argument(s) in support of its point of view? Why?
  • Which of the 3 articles do you think made the weakest argument(s) in support of its point of view? Why?
  • Which deficit reduction approach do you find yourself agreeing with more--decreasing government spending or increasing tax revenues? Or perhaps some of both? Why?
Like I said, I totally understand that you may be confused by some of the terminology in the readings, and you may not feel that you have an adequate foundation in the subject matter to effectively comment about everything, but please just do the best you can. I will be checking the blog during the "posting window" more than I usually do, so if something comes up that you're unsure about or if you have any questions, post them as a comment and if possible I will post a reply shortly thereafter that will answer your questions as best I can.

Your two comments must be posted by the end of the day Friday, December 9 (BTW, posting something to ask me a question does NOT count as one of your two comments!). Your first comment should be answering the questions above, and the second should agree or disagree with something a classmate has posted, and explain why you agree/disagree. Thanks, good luck, and have fun!!

Silvy :)