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 :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Hampshire Republican Primary Debate!

Welcome to our first class visit to the "blogosphere" of the semester! Since we're finishing up our unit on Elections & we're about to start looking at the process of campaigning, and since this will obviously be a story we follow throughout the semester, I thought a great topic for our 1st blog assignment would be the Republican debate that was held in New Hampshire (a key early primary state!) this past Tuesday evening, October 11, moderated by Charlie Rose. In case you didn't get to watch it live or recorded on TV (which I imagine applies to most of you!), click the topic title link above to watch online video of the entire debate--it runs about 90 minutes, and while I encourage you to watch the whole thing, if you can at least watch an hour or so of the debate, that should be enough for you to be able to thoughtfully participate in our discussion. After you watch the debate, please consider the following questions:

  • What were your overall general thoughts/reactions to each of the candidates?

  • Whom did you like and whom did you not like? Why?

  • Who stood out to you the most? Who do you think did well in the debate and who didn't do as well? Why?

  • Was there one line or one moment from the debate that really stood out to you? If so, what was it and why?

Remember, your assignment is to post TWO comments to the blog by the end of the day next Monday, October 17. Maybe you want to look at some previous topics and comments posted by last year's students to get a sense of about how long your posts should be; I don't have an exact minimum length in mind, but generally I would say a decent-sized paragraph would be required for you to adequately express your opinions and address all of my questions.

Your first post should be your answers to those questions I've posed above, and then your second post (this can be a couple days later if you want) needs to be a response/comment/agreement/disagreement on something that one of your classmates has posted. These second comments can be shorter than your initial answers to my questions in your first comment, but they do still need to be somewhat substantial with some thought put into them; simply saying "I agree with ________" or "________ is wrong in what she says" won't get the job done! Also, I hope at this point I don't need to tell you (though I will anyway!) that while I want you to passionately and enthusiastically express your opinions in this forum, please be sure to be respectful and appropriate in your comments, both about the Republican candidates as well as about the comments and opinions of your classmates.

Last thing: please make to sure to post your thoughts as "comments" on a continuing thread within and below this same topic--please DO NOT submit a "new post" which will appear at the top of the blog's home screen. The right way to do it is to click on the link down below where it says "0 comments" or "12 comments" or " 67 comments" in pink font--this will take you to a text box where you can post your own comments.

I look forward to seeing what you all have to say--good luck and have fun!

--Silvy :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Supreme Court justices on Constitutional Interpretation

For this post, since we're smack-dab in the middle of our Judicial Branch chapter, I thought it would be great to hear from a couple of our current Supreme Court Justices--one liberal and one conservative. If you click above on the title link of this post, it will take you to a 13-minute video clip of an interview that Chris Wallace of Fox News conducted with Justice Stephen Breyer. The two links below will take you to Part I and Part II--each about 12 minutes long--of an interview that the CBS program "60 Minutes" conducted with Justice Antonin Scalia. (If you want, you can skip the first 4 minutes or so of Part II, as this deals more with Scalia's personal life and his childhood).

Since we have referenced this in class, you should be well aware by now that Justice Breyer is one of the reliable liberals on the court, advocating a philosophy of Judicial Activism, while Scalia is very much a conservative justice, the epitome of Originalism or Strict Constructionism. As you watch these interviews and have these two very contrasting interpretations of the Constitution and the role of judges explained for you, please consider the following questions:

  • In general, do you find yourself agreeing more with Breyer's (and Ginsburg's) assertion that we should be guided by the values outlined in our Constitution, or with Wallace's (and Scalia's) notion that we should go by the exact wording of our Constitution? Why? How does this connect with our discussion in class about 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?

  • Do you agree with Scalia's explanation of the flag-burning issue? Do you believe that the 1st Amendment protects the right to burn an American flag and that, as Scalia says, "it was not up to [him]?" Or do you feel that the Court should have stepped in and prohibited flag-burning?

  • Please feel free to elaborate on any other thoughts, opinions, comments or reactions you had to these two interviews, these two Justices, or these two contrasting judicial philosophies.

Remember, you need to post TWO (2) comments to the blog. The first post should be your responses to these questions after you watch the videos, and the second post should be a response to something posted by one of your classmates. Both comments need to be posted by the end of the day on Monday, April 4th. Good luck--I look forward to reading your comments!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Federalism & Health Care

Welcome to our 1st blog assignment of this new semester! Since we're just finishing up our work on Federalism, what the Federal Government has the power to do vs. State Governments, etc., I thought a perfect (although perhaps not terribly easy to understand) topic for this first assignment would be the controversial new Health Care Reform law that President Obama and the Congress enacted last year. As with many of the issues we mentioned in the past week (gun control, civil rights, gay marriage, even illegal immigration), for our purposes the debate isn't simply "do we think what the law does is GOOD or BAD?" (there are strong opinions on both sides of that when when it comes to Health Care), but rather "do we think it should be the FEDERAL Government who takes care of this or should it be up to the STATES?"

For this assignment you will be looking at some information on a website as well as watching two different short video clips. Click on the title of the post above ('Federalism & Health Care') to go to a website which presents some basic information about the issues involved in the Health Care debate, as well as some arguments for and against the law. Read through those 'pros and cons,' and I encourage you to watch some of the video clips or click on some of the PDF links, as well, for statistical data and other additional information. After looking at the pros and cons, consider the following questions:
  • Of all the arguments given on either side, with which one do you AGREE the most strongly? Why?
  • Of all the arguments given on either side, with which one do you DISAGREE the most strongly? Why?
  • I realize the Health Care bill is a very complex and confusing thing and you may not feel like you know a lot about it (I freely admit to not completely understanding it myself), but based on what you've read and what you've heard, what are your general thoughts about this law, or in a larger sense, about the role of the federal government in providing access to health care for its citizens?

You're also going to watch a couple of video clips by clicking on the links below. The first is a Fox News interview with Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia who, on behalf of his state, is suing the federal government over the health care law, claiming it is unconstitutional. The second clip is an MSNBC interview with Thurbert Baker, the Attorney General of Georgia, who completely disagrees with Mr. Cuccinelli and therefore is not taking part in the lawsuit being brought by several states against the federal government.



The main issue is the so-called "individual mandate," which requires that all Americans buy health insurance, just like how you're supposed to have auto insurance if you drive a car. There are other controversial parts of the law, but this is the provision that's getting the most attention; the question is: does Congress' power to "regulate commerce" include a power to regulate a "lack of commerce?" In other words, can the government force a person to engage in commerce (buying insurance) if the person hasn't already done so?

I realize that these and other legal points made in the interviews may be confusing, but I think several of the issues or concepts that were brought up should have sounded familiar, so let's keep the questions relatively simple and straightforward:

  • What terms or concepts did you hear in either video clip that sounded familiar based on what we've been discussing in class for the past week or so?
  • Who do you think made the better argument, Mr. Cuccinelli ("the law is unconstitutional") or Mr. Baker ("the law is constitutional")? Why do you say this?

Your TWO (2) comments on this topic must be posted by 11:59 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday, February 22. Your 1st post should simply be your responses to the questions I've posed after looking at the 'pros and cons' website and watching the videos. The 2nd post should be a response/agreement/disagreement to one of your classmates' comments. Please be sure that all your comments are appropriate and respectful; you can criticize someone else's ideas or arguments, but any sort of personal attacks will not be tolerated. Good luck and have fun--I look forward to reading your comments! --Silvy :)