Monday, December 13, 2010

Supreme Court

Winter break is coming up, but we have a little blog business to do before we go on vacation! Since we're currently working on the judicial branch, for this posting we have a couple of Supreme Court-related things to look at and comment on.

First of all, click on the title link above and it should take you to a Yahoo! News story about the Supreme Court and detainees at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Read this article, and think about the following questions:
  • What connections do you notice between this story and the readings we did from "The Nine," especially when it comes to the issue of the Judicial Branch attempting to limit the exercising of power by the Executive Branch?
  • I realize you may not know the details or circumstances of the specific cases of particular detainees, but do you agree with President Obama's plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay? Or do you more fall in line with President Bush's policy that the prison should remain open and these 170+ detainees should stay locked up in Cuba?
  • On a related note (and again obviously understanding that you may not be familiar with the specifics of certain cases), do you agree with the law passed by the House that would prevent detainees currently being held at Guantanamo from being transferred to the United States? (The idea is that if Guantanamo is closed, it's not that the detainees would go free; they would just have to be moved to other maximum-security prisons in the U.S. Many have said they wouldn't want these detainees transferred to their state, so by passing this law, Congress has potentially made it harder for the prison to be closed.) What do you think the Supreme Court should do?

In addition to reading this article, I'd like you to watch a very interesting 13-minute video clip. It's a one-on-one interview on Fox News Sunday between host Chris Wallace and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. There's a chance that a link to this video clip will appear on the side of the screen when you're reading the Yahoo! News article ("Justice Stephen Breyer on FNS"), but if not, you can get to it by clicking on the link below:

As you watch this video, please consider the following questions:

  • Do you agree with with Breyer's assertion that we should be guided by the values outlined in our Constitution, or more with Wallace's notion that we should go by the exact wording of the Constitution? Why? How does this connect with our discussion in class of the different types of judicial interpretation and ideology?
  • Do you agree with Breyer's explanation of the 2nd Amendment? Or do you more agree with the interpretations of the Supreme Court (against which Breyer dissented) that led to handgun bans being overturned in the past year or two? Why?
  • When Wallace asks Breyer about President Obama's comments at last year's State of the Union regarding the Citizens United decision, do you agree with Chief Justice Roberts' statement that it was "troubling," or did you find yourself agreeing more with Breyer's explanation of the situation? Why?

Remember, you should post two separate comments to the blog. The first should be your answers to as many of the above questions as you can, and the second posting should be a response to the comments of one or more of your classmates. You have until the end of the day Friday, December 17th to post your comments. Good luck, have fun, and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Media Bias, 2010 Elections

Since we're having to skip over some of the material in Chapter 15 ("The Media"), and since we're coming up on Election Day 2010, I thought the topic of Media Bias would be a good one for our next blog discussion.

With 24-hour TV cable news, talk radio, newspapers, magazines, and of course the Internet, there is a tremendous amount more that fits under the category of "The Media" than there was even 10-15 years ago, and it's certainly unrealistic to think all (or even most) of it is always going to be completely objective in how it presents the news, but what people see, read, and hear (and FROM WHOM they see, read, and hear it) is going to have a HUGE impact on their ideas and their opinions.

But WHERE exactly is the bias? And how exactly does it manifest itself? The reality is that anyone may see bias if a story is presented with a viewpoint different from their own, but since the media is becoming an ever-increasing part of our daily lives, it's still very important to examine it in more detail AND TO TRY TO BE AS OBJECTIVE AS POSSIBLE WHILE DOING SO!

First, you're going to do a little reading. The title link above (where it says "Media Bias, 2010 Elections") will take you to a 'Google Docs' screen with an article that will present both sides of the debate: one claiming that there is a bias in the media toward the liberal point of view, and the other claiming that there is a bias in the media that leans toward the conservative point of view.

After you read those few pages, please click on the links below to watch some video. The first one is about a 15-minute clip from the "Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC. Ms. Maddow does not make any effort to hide her liberal views and she is not shy about criticizing Republicans, but I found this clip particularly interesting because, as a liberal, she is criticizing the media for being biased toward Republicans in their coverage of the upcoming midterm elections.

The second link below is an 8-minute segment from the "Sean Hannity Show" on Fox News, with Mr. Hannity interviewing Karl Rove, who was the chief political strategist for President Bush. This is a good clip because it addresses (from a very conservative viewpoint, of course) many of the issues that have arisen with negative advertising in this election season. It will also tie in nicely with our discussion in class about the financing of political campaigns and who it is that pays for commercials and contributes to candidates.

The final clip is also from Fox News, this one a 6-minute clip from "The O'Reilly Factor." The host, Bill O'Reilly is interviewing conservative commentator Bernard Goldberg, and this clip will provide an interesting counterpoint to the Maddow clip, because while they also discuss the media being critical of President Obama and the Democrats, they begin with the premise that this is unusual, and that normally the media has a decidedly liberal bias.

After reading the article and watching the video clips, answer these questions:
  • In the reading, which of the two sides did you find more convincing? Why? Were there ideas/arguments in either article (or both!) that you agreed/disagreed with? Which ones?
  • What were your thoughts on the Rachel Maddow video? Obviously you're just seeing her side of it, but do you agree with her overall point that the media has helped or been more favorable to Republicans in this election season?
  • What were your thoughts on the two Fox News videos? Even though you may not have all the context if you haven't been paying as much attention to the media covering politics as O'Reilly's or Hannity's primary audience, what did you think of Mr. Rove's response to the charges made against him in that DNC ad? Did you agree with Mr. Goldberg's comments on the media's treatment of President Obama and the Democrats? Why/why not?

Remember, your first post should be answers to the above questions, and then sometime later, after having read what your classmates have said, please post another comment in response to one of your classmates. Both of your comments need to be posted by the end of the day on Wednesday, October 27. Have fun--I look forward to reading your comments!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jobs & The Economy: A Town Hall with President Obama

Here is our first topic for this semester! Sometimes we will be linking to articles, essays, statistics, or some combination thereof, and sometimes--like for this discussion--you'll be watching some video. On September 20, President Obama participated in what's called a 'town hall' event with voters in Washington, D.C. At these events, the President will take questions not only from the host/moderator, but also from audience members; 'average voters' who have questions about how government policies might affect their daily lives. In this case, the focus of the town hall was on the economy and unemployment.

First of all, let me say that I do NOT expect you to be able to fully comprehend all of the fancy economic terminology and references the President uses, nor do I expect you to be able to keep straight all of the numbers, percentages, dollar amounts, or statistics that he mentions (I'm not sure I'd be able to do it myself!). Even if some of the specific facts may go a bit over our heads, however, many of the larger ideas addressed in these questions and answers relate directly to some of what we have been discussing this week, namely the ideological debate about the proper role of government and in particular the question of how active our government should be when it comes to the economy.

The entire video is about an hour long. If you are able to watch the whole thing I would love it, but I'm asking only that you watch at least 30 minutes of the coverage. It can be the first 30 minutes, the last 30 minutes, 30 minutes starting somewhere in the middle, 15 minutes from the beginning and then another 15 minutes from the end; it's totally up to you! A few highlights I might suggest, however:
  • Between about 15:00-20:00, there is some great discussion about government involvement/intervention in the economy, how 'free' should the 'free market' truly be, etc.
  • Around the 24:00 mark, the President brings up the issue of the 'Bush Tax Cuts' that we discussed in class earlier this week
  • Between about 40:00-45:00, the host brings up what by now should be a familiar topic--the Commerce Clause--and asks about how it's been used to justify expansion of the powers of the federal government
  • During this same segment, the President also addresses the issue of the Tea Party Movement and some of the intense opposition to him and to his policies (if you're not sure what this is, don't worry--we will certainly be discussing it as the November elections get closer!)

Again, you can watch whichever 30 minutes of the program you want, but as you're watching, I'd like you to consider the following questions:

  • Which of the questions (either from the host or an audience member) do you think was the best (the most powerful, the most insightful)?
  • Which of the President's arguments did you find the strongest, the most logical, or that with which you would be most likely to agree? Why?
  • Which of the President's arguments did you find the weakest, the most illogical, or with which you disagreed the most? Why?
  • In general, do you agree with President Obama's positions or explanations with regard to government involvement in the economy? Does it seem to you that he has the correct ideas for how to improve our economy? Why or why not?

As I said, I realize some of what is discussed will be confusing or use terms with which you're not totally familiar. Don't worry about getting bogged down in specifics or statistics, however, and just watch or listen for those larger ideas about what the role of government should be when it comes to the economy, especially when (like now) our economy is going through some tough times.

Based on the questions I've posed above, you all need to post comments to this blog at least TWICE by next FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1st. The first time you post a comment, it should be to respond to my questions after watching the video. If possible your second post should be a response to something another student has said in his/her post. You can agree, disagree, critique, further explain your positions, or take the opportunity to comment on a piece of the video other than what you discussed in your first posting. Regardless, PLEASE make sure that all of these comments are fair and respectful--we can vigorously debate and disagree, but personal attacks and insults are not acceptable!

Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I look forward to reading your comments! GOOD LUCK,


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Supreme Court Vacancy?

Maybe we're jumping the gun here, but since we're working on the Judicial Branch, I thought this would make for a good next topic for our blog post. The link above is to an audio file, an interview on National Public Radio with Jeffrey Toobin, a Supreme Court expert and the author of The Nine, excerpts of which you read in class recently. Toobin recently did a profile of Justice Stevens, the most senior member of the Court and the justice whom many believe will be the next to retire, perhaps as soon as this spring. The interview is about half-an-hour long, so I don't necessarily expect to you to sit and listen to the whole thing, but much of what is discussed connects very well to what we've talked about in class, and at least you should pick out several minutes worth of the interview (beginning, middle, or end) to listen to.

The above link takes you to an article from February of this year, predicting whom President Obama might nominate to replace Justice Stevens if he does in fact retire. In the very first paragraph, where it talks about "media reports" and "blog posts," these are actually links to other articles. First and foremost please read the article, but I'd also encourage you to click on the "media reports" link, as there is a good 3-minute video which also looks at possible picks for an as-yet-nonexistent Supreme Court vacancy.

Based on your reading of the above article, your listening to the Toobin NPR interview, and/or your watching of that short video, please address the following questions:
  • What stood out to you from these resources? What struck you the most when it came to Justice Stevens himself or what his possible retirement might mean for the Supreme Court?
  • Do you think Justice Stevens will retire this year? What about Justice Ginsburg? Why/why not? Any thoughts on whom President Obama might select to replace them?
  • Any other thoughts about the radio interview, the article, or the video?

Remember, each of you should make TWO (2) separate comments, preferably one about the interview or article itself, and another which responds to something posted by a classmate. Please try to have this second comment be something more than simply, "I agree/disagree with ___________." If possible, talk a little more about your own opinions/reactions and WHY you agree or disagree.

Remember also, please post your comments as part of the comment thread with this particular post; just "add a comment" and don't "publish a new post."

These two comments are due the same day as our Judicial Branch quiz, the last day before we go on Spring Break: Thursday, April 1st.

Monday, February 22, 2010

1st topic of 2nd semester--the Filibuster!

Welcome to the AP Government blogosphere! Since we're covering many of the chapters in a different order than your 1st semester colleagues did, the subject matter of our blog postings will most likely go in a different order, as well. Since we're starting this week on the legislative branch, I thought an appropriate and timely topic would be the U.S. Senate's unique tradition of the filibuster. Please click on the title link above, and read a little Wikipedia background on where the term 'filibuster' comes from and how exactly it works in today's Senate (you can skip over most of the stuff about Ancient Rome, the U.K., Australia, Canada, etc.).

Once you've read that explanation, please click on the following 2 links and read both of these articles, as well. The first talks about why the filibuster is an outdated tradition that should be abolished, and the second gives a vehement defense of the filibuster, stressing its importance and that it should be maintained. (this was written before the Massachusetts special election, when Democrats still held 60 seats in the Senate)

After reading these different articles and explanations, here are some questions for you to consider:
  • What do you think of the filibuster? Do you like the idea of potentially needing 60 votes out of 100 to be able to pass legislation? Is it protecting the minority so that one side doesn't force too much of their agenda down the throats of the American people, or does it make it too difficult for a side that has won an elected majority to enact ANY of its agenda?
  • What are some of the most effective arguments given both in favor of and against the filibuster?
  • Look at the graph on the Wikipedia page, showing the number of cloture votes in the past 60 years or so (cloture is when Senators vote to cut off debate on a topic; they're basically voting on whether or not to vote, and 60 'yea' votes are needed to move on to a final 'up-or-down' vote on a bill, a nomination, etc.). What trends do you notice on this graph? What do you think might account for those trends?

Remember, each of you need to make at least TWO (2) separate posts to the blog about this topic. There is no length or 'minimum # of words' requirement, but use your best judgement about how long your comments should be in order to effectively make your point and contribute to the discussion. One of your comments should be a response to any or all of the questions posed above, and your other comment should be a response to something one of your classmates has said. Both of your comments need to be posted by the end of the day next Friday, March 5. Have fun, and good luck!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Last posting (sniff, sniff...)--Affirmative Action!

All right, everyone, the end of our semester is fast approaching and we have time for ONE more blog assignment. Since we're in the midst of a unit on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, and since most of you are (or will be) going through the college admissions process, I thought a perfect topic for our last online discussion would be AFFIRMATIVE ACTION. For those of you not familiar with the concept, this is basically when, often in the interest of diversity, members of some minority group (women, African-Americans, Hispanics, religious minorities, gays & lesbians, etc.) are given preference when it comes to university admissions, hiring, or promotions.

For example, two different high school seniors are applying to UC Berkeley. One is a white male from La Jolla who has a 3.9 GPA and 740-690-720 on his SATs, the other is an African-American female from South Central Los Angeles who has a 3.6 GPA and 710-670-700 on her SATs. Sometimes, though not always, the 2nd student will be accepted while the 1st student will be rejected, even though 'by the numbers' he would seem to be more qualified. This is a very controversial phenomenon which may affect some of you in your college search process; it may be a benefit or it may be an obstacle.

There are very passionate opinions on both sides of this issue. Are these types of preferences necessary to 'level the playing field,' promote diversity, and make up for decades--even centuries--of oppression and discrimination? Or is this simply 'reverse racism,' when we should live in a color-blind society where people are judged solely by merit? You are going to read some articles that lay out various aspects of these opposing viewpoints. The title link above is one that all of you should read; it's actually 2 different articles, one arguing each side of the issue. In addition to that, please read at least TWO (2) of the three articles linked below:

Also, you should look at the 4 links below, as they talk about some of the most important Supreme Court decisions relating to the issue of affirmative action. The 1st one is from the late 1970s and deals with the University of California; the next 2 are from 2003 and deal with my beloved University of Michigan. BTW, these cases have been known to show up on the AP exam from time to time, as well! The last case is just from the most recent Court session, and may give an indication as to where affirmative action policy is headed in the future.

So after all that, what is it exactly I'd like you all to blog about? Here are the main questions for you to address:
  • Based on what you have read, what do you think are the most effective arguments IN FAVOR OF affirmative action?
  • Based on what you have read, what do you think are the most effective arguments AGAINST affirmative action?
  • What are your own thoughts about affirmative action? Is it necessary to 'level the playing' field? Is it 'reverse discrimination' that should be abolished? Or do you take a middle-of-the-road, 'mend-it-but-don't-end-it' approach?
  • What stands out to you from any/all of the Supreme Court decisions over the years dealing with affirmative action? Do you strongly agree or disagree with any of their reasoning? Why?

Remember, please make TWO (2) separate comments: one on the readings themselves and the questions posed above, and then another in response to a classmate's comment. Obviously you should feel free to post more than that if you so desire! The due date for these comments is the day of your final exam: January 19th (1st period) or January 20th (4th period). I look forward to your comments, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for making this first experiment with AP Government blogging such a success! Thanks, Silvy :)