Class Updates

Week 13:  Foreign Policy and Putting It All Together

We have made it my POL 51 friends!  Or rather, we’ve made it to the end of our zoom meetings.  There is still time to learn in this class!  First a bit about foreign policy, which is one of my very favorite topics.  Foreign Policy in the US has been guided since George Washington’s Farewell Address by two themes- isolationism & unilateralism.  Even today, when the US is the world’s preeminent military power (at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars per year), these are the two guiding themes in American Foreign Policy.  I know this sounds contradictory, which is where the framing work of the problem definition stage of policymaking comes into play.  Foreign Policy is also an area where the originally Constitutionally-defined separation of powers is a tough fit for the security and foreign policy challenges of today.  The expressed powers and inherent powers of the Executive Branch are strongest in foreign policy.  Presidents argue that they ought to be considered “The Sole Organ” in foreign policymaking, yet only Congress can declare war.  Which it hasn’t done since 1942, despite the US being involved in many things that look, sound, and cause death like wars.  See if you can find the differences (if there are any) between the declaration of war and the authorization to use military force on slide #353. There is much, much more to say, and I hope you will say it in on your blog posts this week!  

A few quick reminders for wrapping up the class:

  1. There is a completely optional zoom meeting Tuesday, June 8 from 9am-10am.  Stop by to say hi, ask any questions, or just work on your assignments with some company.  Invitation is linked in blackboard.  
  2. Complete the assignments you’d like to- it is not too late for any of the assignments.  I will accept all assignments submitted by June 12  You can add your assignments as blog posts or through Blackboard, whichever you prefer.  

***Make sure that you include your self-grading assessment for each assignment you do- this can be a paragraph at the end of the assignment, saying how many points you assign yourself, and assessing your work against the requirements of the assignment.***

3.  Remember to take your Final Exam, which will be open from June 9-12 on Blackboard.  Same rules as the midterm- multiple choice, open book, unlimited time, take the exam as many times as you like.  To prepare, I recommend reviewing the Crash Course videos as well as your assigned reading in our textbook.  Don’t try to make sense of the powerpoints without the textbook readings/summaries and videos (the slides are not meant for that and probably don’t make much sense on their own!)  When you take the test, using your assigned reading to verify answers will work better than randomly googling, I promise.  If you are having technical problems, or don’t want to take the exam for any reason, there are plenty of other points to get (you can even skip the final if you’ve done well enough already!)

4.  Write your final blog post/reflection (or if you haven’t been blogging, write 2-3 paragraphs in a Word or Google Doc) summing up what you’ve learned in this class and how you’ll use it in the future.  Make sure to include what assignments you did and what grades you gave yourself for each of them, as well as what your final point total and final letter grade is.  This should be the last thing you do (after completing your final exam, if you are taking it) so you know what all of the points you have earned are.  I am asking you to do this for three reasons:  First, it gives you the chance to reflect on all of the work you’ve done this semester, to really take a minute and applaud yourself for all that you’ve done, despite the impossible circumstances facing you!  Second, it will ensure that you have completed the assignments to get the grade that you want.  If you find yourself writing the final blog post/reflection and you realize you missed something, go do it!  Then come back and finish your blog post.  Finally, it is an extra check on me, so that I don’t miss any of your work that has been submitted throughout the semester on your blog or through blackboard.  

If you get to June 12, and you still need more time, that’s okay– email me and we’ll set up an INC, so you can finish the work in July.  Finals time is extremely hard, plus COVID is still a concern, plus everything else that is going on- do not make yourself sick over our class!  Please continue to take care of yourself and your mental and physical health, and let me know if I can help.  I am so very proud of each of you for committing to this class and working so hard to learn under these impossibly difficult circumstances.  It has been my honor to learn with you this semester.  Please stay in touch, and if I can ever be of assistance (with a letter of recommendation or anything else), please do not hesitate to email!  

Week 12:  Domestic Policy

Welcome to Week 12, where we will discuss public policymaking and domestic policy.   Simply put, public policy is the set of things that government does- legislation, implementation, evaluation, and administration are all part of public policymaking, and politics enters in at every point.  Problem identification and framing is extremely important- think about any problem that is important to you, that you think there should be government action on.  How do you frame it?  How is it currently framed at the national level (if at all).  What policies currently exist for that problem (remember, inaction can be a public policy too!) and what would you like to see?

The work is the same as usual this week- read Chapter 11, Crash Course Video 15, 16, 47, 49 & add your 2 sentences to the Domestic Policy Chapter (you can look at the slides too, but remember, your textbook and videos are more helpful- the slides are just a guide to what is in the textbook and videos!), and make your two blog posts.  If you have a little time this week, why not knock out the Final Slide – create just one slide in our collaborative study guide deck, and you’ll earn 5 points.  It’s a great quick way to work with your favorite thing from this semester and earn points for your grade in the process.  Remember to add your self-grading assessment in the speaker’s notes on your slide.  

The reading you do this week will be especially useful to you in working on the What’s Your Problem assignment.  I’ve had some questions, and this project is deceptively difficult, so I’ll explain it a bit.  It’s deceptive, because you only need to write 1-2 pages as the final letter, but that 1-2 pages must be densely packed with properly cited research to back up your claims- at least 9 reputable sources– you’ll do the same amount of work on these 1-2 pages as you would for a 10 page research paper!  Use proper in-text citation, which can be MLA or one of a couple of other formats, like APA or Chicago; if you’re most comfortable with MLA, please use that.  You can get a refresher on how to use materials you are going to cite here; that page also has a link to the Citation Machine, which can automatically format the bibliographic references you put at the end of your letter, that you cited in the text of your letter.  Overall, I’m much less interested in the proper placement of commas in the citation than I am in you using evidence that you get from reputable sources, that you cite in the text of your letter as you use them, and then provide the full bibliographic reference in a works cited page (MLA) or footnotes (Chicago).  

Your letter should be addressed to a specific person that can get the 1 ​solution you propose implemented.  It may be a specific Congressperson, or the head of an executive branch agency- who it is depends on what you want to get done.  For example, if you are writing to have administration of a piece of existing legislation amended, then a Congressperson would not be the best bet (probably) but the head of the agency that does the administering.  If you are writing to get a new piece of legislation written, then writing to a Congressperson who is active on that issue might be the best move.  Whoever you write to, make sure you make it clear why you are writing to them specifically.  Like I said, it’s a lot of work, but it is on a topic that you get to choose, that is important to you, and after putting in all of that work, you can actually send the letter! (this is completely optional- I’ll never know if you do or not)

Of course, you don’t have to do the What’s Your Problem letter if you don’t want to- remember, the choice of which assignments to do is completely up to you- just make sure you have done enough points to get the grade you want.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me (either with a question or to make an appointment).  If you’re struggling with the coursework, let me know, and we can make a plan that works for you.  

Finally, try to schedule some time now to prepare for and then take your final exam (if you want to- if you’ve already earned enough points, you don’t need to take the final!).  It will be the same format at the midterm exam- openbook, unlimited time, open from June 9-12.  Block out the time you’ll take it now in your calendar on your phone (and set some alerts  so you don’t forget!).  

Week 11:  Political Parties

Welcome to Week 11, where we are all party, all the time!  This week, we will discuss political parties- what they are, what they do, where they come from, what they push for, and who they represent.  The US has a two party system, due to the decision rules for elections here and is likely to stay that way (though what 2 parties are the 2 parties may change/evolve in their platforms over time).  Though there are third parties in the US, they tend to be local and single-issue, which sometimes get zany, as in the Rent is Too Damn High Party and the US Marijuana Party.  The work is the same as usual this week- read Chapter 9, watch videos #35 and #40-41, flip through the slides (this week’s start at #279, and remember, they’re a supplement for your textbook, not a replacement!), and make your two blog posts.  In your posts, try to push yourself further than just restating what you read- interrogate it, analyze it, see what it means to you. 

This week is a great week to catch up and get ahead if you can (I’m especially talking to my friends who have fallen way, way behind- it’s not too late, I promise, but we need to get you caught up!)If you haven’t been blogging, there’s still time to get started, and value to the process of writing your thoughts on these complex topics down.  Of if you are not going to blog, you can do other assignments to make up the points.  You should be able to estimate what grade you’ll assign yourself for your blogging and class participation, which will help you figure out how many other assignments you need to complete before the semester ends to get the grade you want.  Of course, the choice of which assignments to do is completely up to you- just make sure you have done enough points to get the grade you want.  I have added an “Assignments” folder in blackboard, so if you’re not blogging (or you are, but you want somewhere cleaner to submit your assignments), you can use the links in that folder for the assignments you choose.  

I highly recommend doing the 2 Sentence Chapter this week (5 points for writing 2 properly sourced and footnoted sentences- it’s the best deal of the semester!)  This is part of the reading for next week as well, so the more students we have who do this assignment, the better the reading will be.  I would also point out the Final Slide, which is due by May 31, because we’ll use those slides as the basis of our final wrap-up class on June 1I know everything is hard this semester, and I thank you for your continued efforts at this incredibly difficult time.  I’m here to help, so drop into office hours, send me an email, or send me some times that work for you to meet (if office hours don’t).  IMPORTANT NOTE: If you feel too behind to catch up, or you’re sick/taking care of someone sick/just struggling for any reason, email me and we will sort out something.  No one is getting left behind my friends!  We’ve got about 3 more weeks of class, and then finals week, so we can do this!

Have a great week partying with political parties, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. 

Week 10: Political Participation

Welcome to Week 10, wherein we will discuss political participation.  There are many ways to participate politically, the most obvious and formal of which is voting.  This week, you will read about the evolution of voting in the US, and how the specific decision rules about voting actually shape the outcome of elections.  For example, the single-member districts and First Past the Post/winner take all decision rules in most American elections help guarantee that the US will only have two parties at one time.  You can also run the same election, with the same votes, and depending on whether you have majoritarian, plurality, or proportional decision rules, come out with at least three different equally democratic winners (we’ll read more about this next week if it’s confusing!)   The rules and formal structures matter!  We will also be considering the Electoral College (refer back to our chapter on the Executive Branch f you’d like a refresher). 

Like everything in American Government so far, corona virus presents an interesting challenge.  Voting has historically happened in person, with voters sometimes having to wait in long lines, but what about when gathering in large groups is potentially dangerous?  Many states moved to extend voting by mail because of the pandemic, which explains why figuring out the winner took longer than usual; it may also have something to do with higher than usual voter turnout this year (the highest in 100 years!  But still less than 70% of the voter eligible population (which is not the whole population of the country, as you will read).  Oregon has been doing vote-by-mail for many years, as a way to increase voter turnout (America’s voter turnout is the lowest of all of the economically advanced countries).  Several states have recently introduced bills which would likely reduce access to voting.  You can read more about Georgia’s new voting law here (it would also make a great blog post if you’d like to do a bit of your own reading and writing about it) 

If you haven’t already, perhaps this week’s readings will inspire you to participate politically in some way, which you can use for the Political Participation assignment (whatever you decide to do, remember to be safe- your health and safety are the most important thing, and there are many ways to participate without even leaving your home!).  Several students have written with books they’d like to use for the book review project.  If you’re thinking of doing a book review, please email me which book you’re using by the end of this week (there are some suggestions on the syllabus, including the one I mentioned in class today, Twitter and Tear Gas); you can also ask one of our excellent KCC librarians for suggestions of appropriate books (just tell them the requirements for the assignment that are on the syllabus- the number to call and/or address to email are both here).  If you’re not doing the book review, make sure you’re working on other projects, to ensure you are learning what you want, while getting the points/grade you want in the class.  I’d like to highlight one option you might want to get started on- the 2 Sentence Chapter.  I didn’t find the existing Public Policy chapter from the Openstax textbook (which I used as the basis for our class textbook) to be that interesting or useful, which is unfortunate, as this is the topic that (in my experience) many students are most interested about!  So we’re going to try to write our own chapter.  But we’re going to crowd-source it, because it’s May, it’s a pandemic year (still!), and we’re all busy.  So we’ll each write 2 sentences, that are footnoted with the source from which we obtained the information.  We probably won’t finish the 

So, please enjoy this week’s readings and videos (Chapter 9, Crash Course Videos 36-39)  flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  If you have questions, email me to make an appointment at a time that works for you.  

Also, you have probably heard by now that CUNY will require a COVID-19 vaccination in order to return to classes on campus in the fall.  You can hear more about the announcement here.  This is relevant to our class topics in many ways- federalism (how different states are handling COVID and vaccination), civil liberties (can the government (federal or state) require me to get vaccinated?), and even employment law (can my job require me to get vaccinated?  Are they liable if my coworker does not get vaccinated gets COVID at work?)   Unrelated to our class topics, I recommend that you get vaccinated, because I don’t want you to die or get very sick, and I recommend if you have any questions or concerns, talk to your medical provider (not a random facebook post) about it; your medical provider may also be able to administer the vaccination for you.  Also, all NYC-run sites are now walk-up- no appointments are needed!  If it helps at all, I have been vaccinated during this semester, and you never even noticed ;o)  I’m happy to discuss my experience with anyone if you like (but remember, that would be anecdotal- just one person’s experience, and if you want the scientific data on how safe the vaccine is, your medical doctor or nurse practitioner is better to talk to than me).

Week 9: The Judicial Branch

Welcome to Week 8, during which we will explore the Judicial Branch.  Some have argued that the Judicial Branch is the weakest branch, finding support from its placement in Article III, after the first two branches and with the shortest list of powers/details written in to the Constitution.  Others argue that it is an imperious judiciary, having expanded its power via judicial review, which is a power given to the Supreme Court not by the Constitution but by the Supreme Court in its decision Marbury v. Madison.  If this seems confusing, that’s because it is.  Also confusing is the federal judicial system, especially since only the Supreme Court is mentioned in Article III.  The rest was left up for Congress to figure out, which they have done by creating a system of District Courts (which are courts of first instance and hear trials), Circuit Courts (appellate courts), and the Supreme Court (which hears about 90 cases per year, selected from appeals from the Circuit Courts as well as from state Supreme Courts).  The number of federal courts, as well as the number of federal judges and justices who sit on those courts, is set not by the Constitution, but by Congress, so it only takes an act of Congress (not a Constitutional amendment) to change the court structure or number of judges or justices.  

Unlike Congress, which frequently has live telecasts of sessions and hearings, SCOTUS (an abbreviation for the Supreme Court of the United States) does not allow video recording of its proceedings.  You can listen to recordings of public hearings (or read transcripts) here.  

I’d like to call your attention to a few possible assignments, to help you build up your points in this class.  The Film Review requires you to watch a documentary (from home!  Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/etc) and write a film review, and Political Participation requires you to do something to participate politically and write a short reflection on it.  The book review is a great way to read a whole academic book of your choosing (related to your major or your personal interests is fine, as long as you can also relate it to course topics).  If you haven’t already done the meme assignment, it’s not too late!   (reminder: all of these assignments are described on the syllabus).  If you’re interested in the What’s Your Problem Assignment, you’ll need to identify a problem, provide evidence of the scope of the problem and its cause, then propose a solution to the problem (a real one, that could be implemented).  Instead of writing a research paper or essay, you’ll put all of this (along with your cited research that supports your arguments from at least 9 scholarly sources) into a letter, addressed to a member of the legislative or executive branch, who can help implement your solution.  There is an outline to help you work through the assignment in the linked assignment sheet.  It’s due anytime before June 6.  

Enjoy this week’s reading and videos (Chapter 8, Crash Course Videos 19-22)  flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.

Week 8:  The Executive Branch

Welcome to Week 8!  Digging into what the powers of the president are now, how they have evolved, and how the president uses those powers is the task of this week, and I wish you good luck!  Based on its placement in Article II (after the Congress in Article I) and its much shorter list of powers relative to the long list of enumerated powers allotted to Congress, it is easy to see the framers intended Congress to be the strongest part of the federal government.  Yet, if you were to close your eyes and try to visualize “American Government” it is likely not the Capitol Building, House, or Senate that would pop into your mind, but a picture of a president or the White House- some symbol of the executive branch.  Particularly since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal era, we have moved increasingly towards presidential government, and this brings many potential challenges.  

The current crisis of COVID 19  is one example of the challenges of using a governmental structure designed 200 years ago to address the problems of the modern world.  There was no provision for remote voting included in the Constitution originally because Congress was not envisioned to be in session all that frequently, nor was the national government meant to have that much power to do all that much that would necessititate frequent meetings.  Nor was science and technology advanced enough to imagine the possibility of things we know today: the Internet, air travel, weapons of mass destruction, massive fast-moving pandemics, email, and video conferencing.  The power of being commander in chief was given to the President in the Consitution, so that if there was a national emergency, like an invasion or attack on the US, the President could respond quickly with the military, without waiting for Congress members to gather together and debate.  As times have changed, that power has been used by presidents to do more and more, without necessarily waiting for Congressional approval (check out the reading on the War Powers Resolution for more information).  What do these political, social, and technological changes mean for checks and balances?

Enjoy this week’s reading and videos (Chapter 8, Crash Course Videos 19-22)  flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  

Welcome to Week 7:  The Legislative Branch

This post is long, so here’s a quick outline:

  1.  Intro to the Week’s Topic- The Legislative Branch!
  2. Reminder to make 2 blog posts this week.  
  3. Your midterm exam is open this week!  

Welcome  to Week 6: The Legislative Branch.  For the next several weeks, we will be digging deeper into the structures of the three branches of American government, starting with the Framers intended to be first, Congress.  Who is in Congress, how do they get there, and what does Congress do are leading questions for this week’s topics.  As with everything we’re covering this semester, there seem to be new questions- what is Congress doing to get the country through this pandemic, and to address the emergent issues of today, which are so different from those that existed at the founding of the country?  While Congress has allowed absentee voting due to COVID, will they continue to allow it in the future/for what reasons?  

Enjoy this week’s reading and videos (Chapter 6, Crash Course Videos 6-10)  flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  A reminder that you should be making two substantial blog posts (2-3 paragraphs, with links to the sources that support your claims) each week, if you can.  There’s a lot of folks not blogging, and I don’t want to lose anyone, so get back in here and share your thoughts!  If you have fallen behind, it’s okay- you can catch up!  If you need help figuring out blogging, check our FAQ page for instructions on where and how to blog nd what to blog about.

The Midterm Exam is open this week in Blackboard- make sure you finish it by 11:59pm April 25.  It is open book, so I strongly recommend you use your assigned readings/videos as a resource-  random google is NOT your friend (and will also likely take more time than actually looking up the answer in your textbook would).  The test is all multiple choice, with no time limit, and you may take/retake it as many times as you like before 11:59pm April 25.  I ask that you take the test independently- you’ll learn through the process of taking the test/verifying the answers yourself, and that is the point of all of this after all!  

I will remind you that all of my announcements and email reminders are to help you stay on track for this class, when you are able to.  This is still a global pandemic, and there’s lots going on in the world besides- health problems, deaths in the family, children who need homeschool help, pressure to work, financial problems from not being able to work- the list of reasons you can’t do your work for this class could go on and on.  So if that applies to you, PLEASE DON’T WORRY.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR PEOPLE THE BEST YOU CAN, AND IGNORE ME FOR NOW.  POL 59 will be here for you when you are ready to catch up, and you can use these emails to guide yourself (also feel free to email me for help).  All deadlines are flexible, and all assignments are self-graded.  If you’re coming back to the class for the first time in awhile, welcome back!  We’re thrilled to have you.  

Week 6: Civil Rights

Because there’s a lot going on right now, here is a link to the KCC Counseling Center-  It’s also been added to our class website’s links.  If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health right now (which is very understandable, for so many reasons), please access the resources available to you (or share them with your friends).  You can also text CUNY to 741741 for 24/7 crisis counseling.

Welcome to Civil Rights Week!  This week, we’ll look at where protections of civil rights come from legally and how those legal protections were achieved- major Civil Rights legislation only occurred after Supreme Court decisions and the people-power of the Civil Rights Movement protests.  We’ll look at several historically marginalized groups, including African Americans, Native Americans, women, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, and LGBT Americans.  One question to think about as you read is who is missing from this chapter?  What events or issues should have been included but weren’t?  We also need to remember that these issues are not solely historical- what civil rights issues do you see happening today?  And, as we touched on a bit last week, what happens when Civil Liberties (protections against discrimination) bump into Civil Rights (such as freedom of religion or freedom of assembly)?  

As always, you’ve got reading to read and videos to watch (Chapter 5, Crash Course Videos 29-32), and you can use these slides to help guide you.  And you need to write 2 blog posts this week (if you’re still behind on blog posts- you can catch up- remember to focus on quality posts of 2-3 paragraphs each that include substantial thinking from you).  

Many students have submitted the meme on their blog already- keep them coming!  If you haven’t done it yet, you’re still welcome to complete it- all due dates are flexible in this class- make sure you read the  meme assignment sheet so you know what is required (and remember to include a self-grading assessment with your assignment).  Remember, you do NOT have to do every assignment/adventure listed in the syllabus.  It’s choose-your-own-adventure (with blogging required), so do the things that are most interesting to you, to accumulate the amount of points you want (97 points gets an A+ so it’s a good target).  I have tried to build in enough flexibility for all students, but if you find yourself needing more for any reason (religious observance, family needs, your health/well-being, work, or any other reason), just reach out to me and we’ll make it work.  

I’ll send more details about your midterm exam next week, but for now, it will be all multiple choice, open-book, with unlimited time.  You will also be able to take the exam as many times as you like from April 19-25.  This approach to exams is consistent with my two original goals for this semester- student learning and student success, and my emergency online goal of student well-being with minimal stress. 

Week 5: Civil Liberties

Welcome to Week 4!  Over this week and next,  we will begin to dig more deeply into the contentious types of issues that brought some of you to take a class in political science in the first place!  Civil liberties and civil rights are often confused with each other, so start with your assigned textbook chapters and videos, to make sure you understand what separates as well as unites these two areas.  This week, you’ll read and think about what civil liberties are, where they come from in the US Constitution, what the limits of civil liberties are, and what happens when civil liberties conflict with each other or with civil rights.  For instance, if you call your boss an @sshole, and they fire you, is that a violation of your civil liberty of freedom of speech?  What limits is it okay for the US government to place on religious practices?  What restrictions is it okay for the US government to place on sex?  

The suggested submission date for your meme project is coming up.  Like all of the due dates in this class, it’s flexible, so if you’d like to do the assignment but can’t get to it by next week, that’s no problem.  Whenever you are working on the project, make sure you check out the requirements in the linked assignment sheet, and that you include a self-grading assessment (a paragraph explaining how your work meets the requirements of the assignment and how  many points out of 15 you would give yourself).  

Enjoy this week’s readings and videos (Chapter 4, Crash Course Videos 23-28)  You can also flip through the slides on civil liberties, then write your blogs.  Spring Break fell weirdly early this year, so if you still haven’t gotten the hang of blogging, go ahead and jump in now (it’s never too late!)  You might consider writing about a current civil liberties issue/conflict (make sure to link to the articles/sources you’re using as the basis for your posts), or how federal and state responses to corona virus have intersected with civil liberties.  Of course, your blog topics are completely up to you- but remember to link to whatever sources you refer to in your posts (this is not only good practice so your reader can get further information, it will also keep you honest about making sure you have solid sources for your claims!).  I’ll be commenting on your blogs, so please do read the comments if you see them on your posts.  And try to read each other’s blogs as well- there’s a lot to learn from each other, and we don’t even have to be in the same room to do it!  I have deeply enjoyed reading the posts I’ve gotten to so far- and I hope you will avail yourself of reading your classmates’ posts- this community of learners is putting out awesome stuff!  Have a great week, and if you have any questions, call in to our virtual office hours on Tuesday from 11:30am-1:30pm (link in Blackboard) or send me an email.  

Finally, as of Tuesday April 6, all New Yorkers age 16 and up are eligible for the COVID 19 Vaccine.  You can see more information (and the links for making appointments) on CUNY’s COVID page at  Please continue to take care of yourselves and stay safe!

Week 3: Federalism

This week, we will discuss federalism, which can, at times, be a real “F” word.  In your reading and your blog posts  this week, you’ll discover what federalism is, why it was included as a feature in the American system, and how it has evolved over time in the US.  For trivia buffs, you might be interested to know that most countries in the world have unitary (not federal) systems, but most people in the world live in federal (not unitary) systems- historically, federalism has been attractive to countries with large populations and with geographically concentrated diversities of population.  

Text that says "Who's on Top? Articles of Confederation: States over Federal. Constitution to Civil War: States vs. Federal. Civil War- Great Depression: Federal over States. New Deal to Today: Federal over states, with lots of arrows coming down from federal into states.

The story of federalism in the US can best be explained, if you’ll pardon my joke, by asking Who is on Top?  In the Articles of Confederation, the states had all of the power, with a very weak national government.  The Constitution gave more power to the Federal government, but the states contested the stronger national government, ultimately going to war over it- in some southern states, the Civil War is still taught as the War for States’ Rights.  The union’s victory in the Civil War settled the question once and for all, that the Federal government was supreme over the states, but mostly left the states alone to handle their own local affairs.  At that time, the Federal government still lacked capacity- they didn’t have much money to do anything, until the 16th Amendment in 1913, which allowed the Federal government to collect income tax for the first time.  Those increased resources, coupled with the huge economic crisis of the Great Depression, and the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt led to the creation of many federal government programs that had direct effects on local issues, which had previously been the zone of states.  The Civil Rights Movement, and accompanying legislation, further asserted Federal legislative supremacy over states’ local affairs.  Despite the pushback of New Federalism during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, we still live very much in a marble-cake world- federal involvement in even local affairs like education is extensive.   

Enjoy reading Chapter 3 in our book (look for the little cube at the beginning to find the chapter summary and key terms file), and be sure to join our annotation group if you’d like to read and take notes together) and flip through the slides on federalism (click on the links when you see them- there’s lots of interesting stuff there!), then write your blogs (on our class website, on your own site, or in Blackboard).  You might consider writing about the costs and benefits of federalism as you’ve experienced them.  Or do some research on felony voting rights or marijuana- these are hotbeds of debate on federalism right now, as seen most recently in the requested resignations of five White House staffers for previous marijuana use.  Or you may wish to write about how federalism is playing out in real time as states and the federal government respond to COVID-19.  Of course, your blog topics are completely up to you- remember to link to whatever sources you refer to in your posts, and I look forward to reading your writing!  

You might notice that there’s a hilarious meme about marijuana legalization in the slides- in fact, I’ll include it here again:

Meme of Two Kermits, one in a hoodie, saying things to each other. Text reads "Smoke Weed- It's legal in this state." and "Don't smoke weed- it's illegal in the USA."

This is a good example of a meme I made for the meme assignment, as well as a pretty sharp analysis of the legality of marijuana in the US.  Like Schrodinger’s Cat, marijuana is both legal (in several states) and illegal (under federal law, which covers all states) in the US.  If I were submitting this meme for this assignment, I’d remember to write an essay explaining the meme, as required by the  the meme assignment sheet.  

As we come up to Spring Break, I know there are several religious holidays occurring.  The flexibility built into this class is designed to cover all of the many different religious holidays that KCC students observe, but if I’ve missed something, or you need additional alterations, just let me know and we’ll take care of it.  We’ll learn more about religious freedom when we get to Week 4: Civil Liberties.  

I also have received many emails from folks who are slow getting started on their blogs.  That’s okay- life happens, especially in a pandemic and there is flexibility built into the class for exactly this reason.  We don’t want to leave anyone behind, so please use Spring Break to catch up on your blogs.  Remember, each week, you are responsible for reading the assigned chapter, coming to our Tuesday class, and writing two blog posts. If you have any questions (about blogging or anything else for the class) check our FAQ page, or hop in to our office hours on Tuesday from 11:30am-1:30pm (link in Blackboard) or email me with a question or for an appointment.  


Week 2: Founding & The Constitution

Welcome to Week 2, and my first weekly email.  Each week, I’ll send out a short email about what we’ll be doing for the week; it will also be posted on our class website’s homepage, so if you fall behind, you can use the home page to catch up.

This week, we’ll be exploring the founding of the US- going back in our time machines to the early days of colonial America through to the Revolutionary War and the Articles of Confederation.  Then we’ll lay the foundation for the rest of the course, by examining the foundational document of American Government, The Constitution.   You will learn about the structure of the Constitution and by extension the whole structure of the government- how it was designed and why. Written over 200 years ago, but still the highest law in the land, you need to read it and understand it, as much of the rest of your course work will be built on this information. When reading the Constitution, remember to look for examples of specificity, vagueness, and flexibility, as well as for the hidden $20.00.  It’s a good idea to have a copy of the Constitution handy for our classes- download a copy here and save it somewhere you can find it easily, so you won’t have to keep searching for it for class (or print it- whatever works best for you).

I know that getting started is a lot (it is for me too- this Monday email is going out almost on Tuesday!)  So try your best to stay on top of the reading (Chapter 1 and 2 in our book, which is the actual text of the Constitution and a chapter explaining how it came to be, as well as Crash Course Videos 2-5) and your blogging, and let me know what you are having trouble with- I’m here to help.  I see some of you have started blogging already, which is AWESOME.  I’ll be leaving feedback and comments on your work throughout the semester- please feel free to do the same for each others’ writing.  For those who are a little behind, that’s okay- all due dates are flexible this semester.  We want to make sure no one falls behind, so try to get started this week.  Remember, you can blog wherever you are most comfortable- on our class site, on your own site (send me the link so I can link it to our class site) or on Blackboard- they’re all good choices, so it’s up to you.  I have office hours on Tuesday 11:30-1:30pm (or send me an email to make an appointment) if you want to talk through anything about the course or getting started.  

Your syllabus and schedule are always available on our class website at just scroll down to see the links for each week’s readings and videos.  I know that getting started is a lot (it is for me too- this Monday email is going out very late), so do your best, and let me know how I can help you.  




Welcome to American Government!  This course is designed to provide an introduction to the major institutions of American federal government as well as the most important political processes and theories of political science more generally.  We will use this knowledge to consider some of the major controversies, criticisms, and suggestions for reform in American politics. The learning objective for this class is to be able to explain the primary organs and functioning of the US government, and to be able to identify the mechanisms for change in policymaking.

Please fill out this quick information form and make sure you check out our syllabus to understand what we’ll be working on- it’s got all of the information you will need to succeed in this class! We’ll go over it in class on Tuesday (link to register for the zoom is in Blackboard). Some teasers/highlights:

*the class is choose-your-own-adventure– blogging and class meetings are required, but the rest is up to you!

*all due dates are flexible, except the end of the course.

*all assignments (except the midterm & final exams) are self-graded.

Also, I know the syllabus is very long, so here’s a quick infographic to help explain what you need to do each week and throughout the semester:

Infographic with text: POL 51: American Government What you need to do in this class Every week: Read the assigned readings and use our private annotation group to comment and respond. Participate in our Tuesday morning zoom class. Write 2 blog posts; read & comment on your classmates' work. Check in with your group- ask for hep and/or supply it. A few times per semester: Pick some adventures (assignments). Do the assignments. Write a self-grading assessment for each assignment you do.