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US Example Essay - Committees and Congress

Friday, May 30, 2014

Here is an exemplar essay on the relationship between Committees and Congress.

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US Politics Update - The Congress

For A2 Politics students, here is an overview of key recent developments in The Congress.

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The Greenback Rules? Pressure Groups and Money in US Politics

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Michael McCartney (Bradford Grammar School) examines the role of money in pressure group politics in the US.

A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.


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Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Happy New Year to all politics students and teachers! 2014 is a big political year with it not only being the last full year before the General Election but it is also a year of elections, referendums, ideological battlegrounds and the start of the 2015 Election campaign. By the time the year is out we will know the future of Scotland, the hopes for Obama's last two years, and we shall all be well and truly getting in gear for the Election 2015! Read on for the political excitement that awaits this year!

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FPTP - Recent developments within the US Supreme Court

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Roberts Court usually hears around 70 to 80 cases a year. Most are of a dry and legalistic character, with little to capture the interest of students or teachers. However, there are times when the Court passes judgement on a case that could genuinely be considered a landmark.

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FPTP - Legislatures - The Empire Strikes Back

Analysis of the power of legislatures would tend to suggest that their relationship with executives can vary according to the constitutional arrangements in that country.

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FPTP - The Death of Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin’s killing and the subsequent acquittal of his accused murderer, George Zimmerman, reopened an old wound in American society and showed how decades, perhaps even centuries old conflicts in the country have never gone away. One Twitter post immediately after the verdict urging people to ‘remember to set your clock back 50 years’ sums up the way many in the African-American community felt about the verdict. Martin, a then 16 year old African-American youth was fatally shot by a neighbourhood watchman after a fight broke out and the latter’s gun was allegedly used in self-defence.

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FPTP - The Annual US Budget Fight

Since 2010 the Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives, as a result the budget process has normally turned into a, somewhat embarrassing fight between the Democrats and the Republicans.

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Where next for the GOP after the Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Climbdown?

Monday, October 21, 2013

The dust is beginning to settle after the 16 government shutdown in the US and the brinkmanship before moderate Republicans finally struck a deal with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

On the face of it, a 10 percentage point fall for the GOP in recent opinion polls suggests a pretty negative impact on the GOP.

However, as this useful FT video explains, it seems that there are some in the GOP who relished the publicity opportunities from the shutdown and who are now positioning themselves ahead of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Most prominent among these is Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz who has seen his approval and donations hitting new highs.

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GOV4A Revision Materials

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The GOV4A Exam is not far away not, happily here are overviews of the entire specification in Tutor2u Style! All powerpoints are available for download via Slideshare! 


Complete Overview (All Four Topics)

Constitution and Federalism 
The Supreme Court
Congress
The Presidency

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Revision Update: US Politics: The Supreme Court

Thursday, May 16, 2013

THE 2011 -12 TERM – CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS LEADS THE COURT

There can be little doubt that the ruling on Obamacare was the decision that was most eagerly awaited from the Court in this term, indeed many regard NFIB v Sebelius as a landmark ruling and one which define the Roberts Court. It is therefore worthy of detailed analysis. Several key points might be made in this regard.

· The voting on the issue of the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was surprising in that it was expected that it would Justice Kennedy who would provide the swing vote on the issue. It was anticipated that the usual conservative bloc of Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito would face the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, with Kennedy providing the pivotal vote. The fact that it was Roberts and not Kennedy that joined with the Liberals was therefore a great surprise.

· Roberts did not sanction the act under the interstate commerce clause as the others did but under the right of Congress to levy taxes.

· This action has meant that the Court has avoided being drawn into the political arena as it was with rulings such as Bush v Gore. It was an example of judicial restraint. In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts stated “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

· The ruling has helped the Obama presidency.

· In doing say Roberts has helped ensure that the respect for the Court is retained. This is a key determinant of its legitimacy, authority and power.

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Revision Update: US Politics: Exemplar Answer: A Conservative Robert’s Supreme Court?

Discuss the view that the Roberts Court is a conservative court

The landmark ruling of NFIB v Sebelius in 2012 which sanctioned Obamacare provides a clear illustration of the jurisprudence of the Roberts Court as it ruled contrary to public expectation in a liberal manner. However, others would suggest that this is the exception rather than the rule.

The Roberts Court may be regarded as conservative due to the composition of the court and the impact of recent appointments. Following the resignation of Justice O’Connor, President GW Bush had the opportunity to replace a centrist swing voter with a conservative. Justice Alito. This bolstered the conservative wing of the court. Justices Scalia and Thomas were already in place after their appointments by Presidents Reagan and GH Bush respectively. The bush appointments of Roberts and Alito, with Justice Kennedy who supports the conservative side 60-70% of the time has meant that the Court has a conservative majority which can outvote the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor. Obama’s appointments have had little impact. Sotomayor and Kagan replaced two liberals (Souter and Stevens respectively) unlike the Alito appointment.

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Revision Update: US / UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: A Bill of Rights?

Discuss the view that a bill of rights alone does not provide an adequate protection of rights.

The continued failure of the UK government to depart the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada would suggest that bills of rights can go a significant way to ensuring that rights are protected. However, the fact that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has suggested that the UK may opt out or derogate from the ECHR would seem to indicate that rights need more that a written statement that rights exist. 

The role of the legislature can prove critical in the defence of rights and a much needed part of the protection of rights equation. Without legislative support, a bill of rights will not provide an adequate protection of rights and liberties. The point is that Parliament could, via the mechanism of parliamentary sovereignty, ban any “freedom” they want. Two measures presently going through Parliament clearly illustrate that the ECHR does not provide an adequate protection of rights. The Justice and Security Bill can result in secret trials, the “snooper’s charter” (Communications Data bill) threatens the right to privacy.

Developments since 9/11 clearly illustrate the fragility of rights in the USA and suggest that they are not adequately protected. Most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, paved the way for indefinite detention of US citizens without trial due to alleged association with terrorist groups. There are even first amendment free speech concerns relating to journalists’ ability to criticise the government owing to the vagueness of the act. This concern was the basis for the Supreme Challenge in Hedges v Obama which decided in favour of the government in 2013.

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Revision Update: US Politics: Exemplar Answer: Protection of Rights in the USA

Discuss the view that rights are not adequately protected in the USA today.

In the aftermath of the bombs at the Boston marathon, there is a possibility that there could be a knee jerk reaction from the authorities which could see national security concerns override individual rights. It should be recognised however that the USA has a well-established rights culture which would suggest this will not be the case.

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Revision Update: US Politics: Rights and the War on Terror

The continuation of the usurpation of rights due to the “War on Terror”

Despite the regime change at home with the election of President Obama in 2008, there has been scant sign of any relaxation of the government controls designed to improve national security. Indeed many would argue that they continue to be undermined by:

  1. Secret surveillance of US citizens has been increased by the National Security Agency.
  2. More government documents have been classified. In 2011 these amounted to 92m compared to 76m in 2010.
  3. Whistle-blowers have faced a government crackdown with increased use of the obscure Espionage Act which dates from World War I.
  4. Congress sanctioned an extension of phone tapping without a warrant until 2017.
  5. Prosecutions by military tribunals rather than civilian courts.
  6. The continuation use of renditions by the CIA and the failure to close Guantánamo Bay detention centre which it is argued amounts to “the fundamental civil liberties issue of our time.”[1]
  7. An expanded definition of a terrorist without recourse to the legal process (National Defense Authorization Act 2012).

The detention of suspected terrorists at Guatánamo Bay (GITMO) and developments since 9/11such as the Patriot Act,  provide an interesting case study of the how rights may be subject to abuse and of the roles played by various political institutions.

With regard to the rights that are “in play” with regard to the detention of these prisoners, these include:

  1. Habeas corpus rights
  2. The right to a fair trial
  3. The right to a lawyer
  4. Freedom from torture

Under the terms of the US Constitution, the 6th, 7th and 8th amendments would seem to have been disregarded.

In order to aid analysis of the roles played by the three branches of government, the following sections look at each branch in turn.

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Revision Update: US Politics: Pressure Groups, Newtown and the NRA

Another massacre in a school and a revival of calls for gun control might have suggested that this was the moment when the powerful gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, might finally have to face some sort of defeat in its attempts to prevent any restrictions to the second amendment. It is probably too early to tell whether or not this is the case but this event does help shed more light on:

1.  The factors that can contribute to pressure group success

2.  The role of pressure groups in a democracy

3.  The nature of US government and politics

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Revision Update: US Politics: Cabinet Government in the US?

Abe Fortas once remarked:

With regard to the cabinet as an institution, as differentiated from the individuals who compose it, it is a joke. As a collegium, it does not exist. Its members, serving as a cabinet, neither advise the president nor engage in any meaningful consideration of serious problems or issues.”

This would seem to confirm the view that the USA operates with a singular executive as opposed to the plural executive used in the UK. It was consequently something of a surprise to see a range of cabinet secretaries appear on various TV programmes in a concerted effort to rage against the impact of the automatic cuts in government spending that will result as a result of the president and the Congress failing to come to a compromise agreement over the federal budget deficit.

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Revision Update: US Politics: Obama’s Second Administration

THE SECOND TERM OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

The appointment of the cabinet can sometimes help illustrate the uses of the cabinet. It was President Clinton who said that he wanted a cabinet that “looked like America”. The consequential selection of women and people from ethnic minorities meant that the cabinet might help broaden the electoral appeal and support for the administration.

This factor has been less to the fore with the appointments to Obama’s second term team but the appointments still provide insight into how the administration might function.

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Revision Update: US Politics: The Start of Obama’s Second Term

The start of the Obama second term posed some interesting questions with regard to the policy direction of government and the style that President Obama may adopt in order to push through this agenda. There are several key developments which give us some insight into these issues.

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Where next for the GOP after The 2012 Presidential Campaign?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Is the Republican Party a party of "grumpy old men"? Why does the GOP no longer seem to connect with younger Americans - is it because they don't understand and connect with voter views on social issues?

The Republican Party is working through a series of internal reviews which seek to identify the issues and problems facing the GOP.

This brief 4 minute studio discussion by the Wall Street Journal experts examines the key issues:

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A2 Students - It’s Crunch Time

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You've had results day from January. You should by now know how many points you are going to need to get the grades you want to move on from College or Sixth Form. However this last push doesn't need to be you on your own! I've complied a list of websites and sources you may want to take a look at, as well as some tricks that you can do to not only help you live the subject but also help you achieve the grades you need and deserve. This is a golden opportunity in which you can evaluate what went wrong last time or what you can do better and do it!

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Politics Quiz 29th January 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Business Studies can have the Biz Quiz, so here comes the Politics Quiz, a weekly round up of news and interesting political stories in the form of 10 questions! Helping you to live the Subject!

Launch the Politics Quiz - 29th January 2013

Download printable version (PDF)

Barack Obama Inauguration Address 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

President Barack Obama's second Inauguration Address presented as a word cloud.



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US Politics - King Obama?

Monday, December 31, 2012

Kevin Bloor explains the recurring debate within American politics about the power of the President; of which there are two contrasting schools of thought. 

One theory claims that the President has exceeded his constitutional powers. As such, he acts in a manner comparable to an imperial monarch. The second is that the Head of State is greatly curtailed in his actions by constitutional and political considerations. This article examines the imperial thesis in the field of foreign policy to the 44th President, Barack Obama.

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Elections in America 2012

As Kevin Bloor explains, once every four years, the American people elect their Head of State. Held at fixed intervals even during war-time, it is a practice which dates back over two centuries. The process may seem a little complex for students more familiar with British politics, particularly when they are first introduced to it. Now seems as opportune a moment as ever to consider the Electoral College, staggered elections and most importantly what the results of November 2012 mean for politics in America.

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US Politics - Can You Buy an Election?

In this article, in conjunction with the one in a recent edition of FPTP, Mike Simpson seeks to question some of the traditional views of the role of pressure groups in light of the most recent developments. This time Mike's focus is  on the USA.


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US Politics: Propositions in 2012 – a shift leftwards?

As Nick Graham reports, a subtle but perceptible shift in the United States’ political orientation took place in November measurable by the success of several ballot proposals from states as far apart as Maine and Colorado. Here and in Washington, voters approved constitutional amendments for the legalisation of recreational marijuana for the first time in the country’s history.

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US update: Initiatives in the recent US election

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In the flurry of excitement around the re-election of Barack Obama many of you may have not noticed that many States in the US also voted on a raft of initiatives that were put before the electorates of these States.

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Six Principles of the US Constitution - Video Introduction

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I'm grateful to Ben Fuller  for spotting this great little video clip on the basics of the US Constitution. Nice!

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Politicans and Movie Stars - Welcome to the US Convention Season

Friday, August 31, 2012

With the first politics lessons of the academic year just days away, how nice of the Republicans to hold their convention just before and thus give us plenty of introductory ammunition.  Even better, the most talked about speech is not one by some boring presidential or vice-presidential nominee, but none other than movie icon Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.  Eastwood’s extraordinary speech has generated a great deal of twitter and internet chatter – largely negative – and even inspired an “Eastwooding” meme whereby twitter users post pictures of themselves interviewing – yes, empty chairs.  More relevantly, the Romney and Ryan speeches have now been comprehensively analysed by supporters and critics alike.

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Romney vs. Obama: Profiles of Paul Ryan

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lots of coverage recently following the selection by Mitt Romney of Paul Ryan to be his running mate in the 2012 Presidential Election. Here are some links to useful profiles of Paul Ryan which help provide an overview of his views and the effect his selection might have for the Romney/Ryan ticket.

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Romney vs. Obama: Keeping Track of the Polls

The RealClearPolitics poll tracker is renowned as a superb source of up-to-date polling for US Presidential elections and 2012 should be no different. Embedded in this blog is the latest polling data which will update as new polls are published.

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Inside Obama re-election headquarters for 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A useful video here from the FT provides an insight into how well organised and active the Obama 2012 campaign is. As the Republican primary season drags on, the Obama re-election campaign has fired up its engines. Ed Luce from the FT takes us inside the Chicago headquarters and speaks with Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt

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The Special Relationship Renewed?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It’s been a breathless few days for devotees of the ‘Special Relationship’.  The Sunday Times’ perceptive columnist Andrew Sullivan describes its warm dynamics in his column today (behind the paywall here.) Who can doubt that, once again, the US president and the British prime minister get along famously.  And it can’t have hurt that David Cameron’s visit came just after a distinctly less comfortable summit with the distinctly more prickly Israeli prime minister.  You couldn’t really see Obama and Netanyahu heading over to a college basketball game to discuss the pros and cons of bombing Iran after all.  But as David Cameron returns to the realities of domestic politics, having effectively endorsed Mr. Obama and heard giddy words of political love in return, he may want to cast an eye over the fate of previous British prime ministers who thought they, too, had a special relationship.

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The Presidency and the Power To Persuade

There is no “power to persuade” for a US president.  That is the conclusion in Ezra Klein’s fascinating recent New Yorker article, drawing heavily upon data-heavy research by George Edwards of Texas A and M University.

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Presidential primaries: study note update

Thursday, October 20, 2011

With the GOP contest dangerously close to descending into what can only be desribed as a slanging match - e.g. see this story from the CNN website if you have not being watching the goings on closely - I have taken the opportunity to fully update my arguments for and against the primaries process.

It is important to note that these points are predicated on considerations of both their existence compared to a process of party elder selection, and ways in which the system of primaries per se could be subject to improvement.

With that caveat emptor aside, here is my updated version…

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US campaign finance

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I’ve come across a great article for students and teachers on the spiralling cost of US elections.

It covers most of the territory that I teach on the topic when outlining the case to suggest that while the race for the presidency is expensive, we have to place this in context: the USA is large country, the contest lasts many months, as a proportion of the GDP of the world’s richest country the cost is minimal, Americans spend as much in an annual cycle on any number of things (or far more in some case, e.g. it is estimated that the US population spends over $100b every year on fast food!), the greenback doesn’t always rule - i.e. the candidate who spends the most doesn’t always win.

Read the CNN piece here.

Obama and the economy

Monday, October 10, 2011

Politics students may not always be avid readers of the Economist so a heads up on a feature in this week’s edition that may be of interest:

“WILL the next presidential election see Barack Obama return triumphantly to the White House for a second term as president of the world’s biggest economy? Or will a sluggish economic recovery, which has left over 14m Americans out of work, doom him to defeat in November 2012?

Models of the way economic factors affect presidential elections already exist. The best known was developed in the late 1970s by Ray Fair, an economist at Yale, who used macroeconomic indicators (such as inflation and the growth rate of income per person) to predict the vote share of the two main parties in subsequent elections. Mr Fair most recently updated his estimates at the end of July, when his model predicted a victory for Mr Obama in 2012 with 53.4% of the vote. In releasing his predictions, however, he noted that “a strong rebound results in a fairly solid Obama victory…and a double-dip recession…results in a fairly solid Republican victory.” Democratic hearts will have skipped a beat or two on hearing Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, say on October 4th that the recovery was “close to faltering”.

But is it right to focus exclusively on macroeconomic indicators?”

Interested? Read more here.

Bush shoe incident

Thursday, October 06, 2011

With all that’s going on at the minute, I hope these clips brings some light relief…

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Obama’s political history told through YouTube

Thursday, September 22, 2011

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This is not intended to be an exhaustive journey through Barack Obama’s career, but instead to end the series on Politics via YouTube by bringing blog readers access to a step by step tour of some key points in the story of an individual with the kind of charisma and oratorical skill that comes around perhaps only once in several generations.

I have tried wherever possible to link to versions with the best combination of audio visual quality.

Put some time aside, and enjoy…

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Introducing Politics: Gay Marriage and UK Democracy

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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Gay marriage is always a great classroom topic. Here we can consider pressure group success, rights and liberties, and the role of the judiciary. In a comparative sense it also brings into view the extent to which rights are better advanced in the UK or the USA.

Recent stories emanating from Whitehall put this issue firmly back on the agenda.

According to the BBC:

“The government has indicated it is committed to changing the law to allow gay marriage by 2015.

Ministers are to launch a consultation next spring on how to open up civil marriage to same-sex couples ahead of the next general election.”

Below I put this debate in the context of a study note on the extent to which Britain can be considered democratic.

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Osama doc on Ch4 well worth watching

Thursday, September 08, 2011

If you didn’t watch Osama: Shoot to Kill on Ch4, it is worth catching on 4OD over the next month or so.

Like most TV documentaries it is takes slightly too long to get the information over, but what I found especially fascinating as part of the film was how those at the top echelons of what is an almost incestuous inside the beltway culture kept the manoeuvre secret .

Shame there hasn’t been an accompanying film looking at the significance of 9/11 and subsequent events in geo-political terms.

View it here while it lasts.

9/11 ten years on

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

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I don’t know how many blog users access the site for PSHE related stuff, but here are details of something I did with my 3rd form today.

I try to make the subjects topical to what is going on at the the time and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was pretty obvious.

With access to a projector, most questions on the worksheet can be covered.

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US political parties: introductory exercise

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

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Can images like these offer us real insight into US politics?

US parties share some characteristics with their British counterparts in the A level Politics course. Neither are very popular, but they do tend to attract a disproportionate number of high end responses.

I came across this article and thought it would act as a starting point for students to engage with the GOP primary race as a way of deepening their understanding of the fabric that holds the American political system together.

At CNN, Julian E. Zelizer a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, contends in this editorial that the Republicans should learn from history and track to the centre.

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Documentary heads up

Sunday, September 04, 2011

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With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming soon we can expect a raft of related features and documentaries, but Shoot to Kill on Channel 4 is highlighted by a number of Sunday papers as the documentary of the week…

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White House 2012

Voter perceptions of economic performance and the link with the White House incumbent are a large driver of elections.
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And a new poll by CNN says that just one in three Americans think Obama is doing a good job of handling the economy, suggesting that it is going to take a miracle between now and next November if Obama is not going to be a one term president.
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American elections: running mates

Thursday, August 25, 2011

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As I said recently, following the US presidential nomination and election race is a great way in for those new to American politics. There is acres of coverage on the US news sites, with reporters already getting towards fever pitch on the GOP race. The latest buzz inside the beltway is that Rick Perry has nudged ahead of Mitt Romney in a series of opinion polls.

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American Politics: the Republican nomination

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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The race for the nomination to become the challenger to Obama next year is crystallising around three main candidates in the pre-primary phase. The Ames straw poll took place recently, and the first official ballots will be cast by party supporters early next year.

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Students new to American politics will find it fun and informative to keep up with the race and update examples to support arguments for and against the presidential candidate selection system. Briefly, if you are unsure how the system operates, those wishing to head the ticket for one of the American parties must first seek nomination by their party. This used to take place in smoke filled rooms by party bosses at quadrennial national party conventions, but now registered supporters (not party members as such) cast ballots for their chosen candidate with the first placed in each state taking all those votes. There are also caucuses, and sometimes a mixture of the two, but you can get to that later.

The important thing to note is that the contest for the White House 2012, i.e. well over a year away, has resulted already in some reasonably well qualified candidates dropping out due to lack of support. This can be seen as a good or a bad thing depending on the context.

Anyway, below are some links, and some basic arguments for and against the primary system…

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Getting going on A2 American

Monday, August 22, 2011

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This is essentially a posting about the virtues of the CNN app for US Politics students

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A Level Politics eBook - Representative Processes in the USA - US Parties

Friday, July 15, 2011

The second in a new series of A Level Politics eBooks by Andrew Ellams examines the core specification topics related to US political parties.

Download sample pages from the US Parties eBook

Order this and other A Level Politics resources from tutor2u (download order form)

Order online from our ecommerce resource store

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A Level Politics eBook - Representative Processes in the USA - US Elections

This superb new eBook by Andrew Ellams, available now from tutor2u, provides comprehensive coverage of the key exam topics on US`elections.  Details of the content is provided further below.

Download sample pages from the US`Elections eBook

Order this and other A Level Politics resources from tutor2u (download order form)

Order online from our ecommerce resource store

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President Twitter

Thursday, July 07, 2011

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It often surprises people that America, a country with arguably the most dynamic market economy, possesses a political system that lends itself towards stasis. Opposing forces push and pull at each other and this is down to the numerous checks and balances the framers designed into the constitution. As one of them said, the plan was that ambition must be made to counter ambition. Constitutionally the president is granted only limited powers, but since the 1930s especially he is burdened with enormous expectations. The de jure limits on the president’s powers can only be overcome with adroit use of informal powers. As one constitutional scholar put it, the president has only the power to persuade.

One way a President can do this is by appealing directly to the people, and Obama in an hour long town hall session via Twitter is an ideal example of this. Previous incumbents of the White House have used the media to appeal directly to the people, such as FDR with his fireside chats via radio, and Reagan was known as the Great Communicator for his easy manner during television addresses to the American people. So how significant was Obama’s use of the social media service?

According to the Associated Press:

“He made little news over the course of about an hour, but that wasn’t his point.

Obama wanted to get in touch with people outside Washington, promote his agenda, prod Congress and embrace the fast-moving online conversation site that is increasingly seen as a home of national buzz.”

In other words, it’s yet another demonstration of how the President seeks to use his informal powers as the communicator in chief in his continuing battle with political opponents on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

Affirmative Action in the USA

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

There’s a really good article here on Affirmative Action that would be of interest to any edexcel American students with respect to the race in America topic.
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Affirmative Action has been shaped by the courts more than any other branch in recent decades, and this case highlights how this is still true. Opinion on AA is usually viewed through a left/right prism, with liberals arguing it is still necessary, and those on the right advocating a dismantling of the system on the basis that it is un-American and possibly should have never been introduced in the first place. There are of course neutrals who share these views, or take the stance that some sort of AA is necessary but should perhaps focus on class rather than race.

Anyway, the article is here and provides a good summary of how the courts have interpreted AA in colleges.

Supreme Court roundup

Thursday, June 30, 2011

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When students write about the US Supreme Court, any responses offering high order analysis of the significance of recent cases, or the subtle shifts of voting blocs on the court really stand out.

At the end of each annual session, court watchers offer their insight into how judges have acted and they are a must for any student folder.

Here is the Washington Post’s summary of the most recent docket, detailing in particular how the Obama appointments have settled in to life in the world’s most powerful judicial body.

A solution to Obama’s gay problem?

A good update on my posting about where camp Obama is on gay marriage.

In the Post, here

Obama’s gay confusion

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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How are relations between the Obama camp, and a key constitutency within the Democrat Party?

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Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

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On Twitter I have been posting links to news stories that are an essential daily read for students of Politics that I have come across as part of my personal reading on the web.

This type of heads up on what is in the news is not a substitute for students doing their own reading, but I know that for many students it is the case that there is so much information freely available on the web that it is not always easy to discriminate between items in terms of their direct relevance to the syllabus. This is where the posts are supposed to fill the gap. Just a couple of links each day, and if students have time to read more then they can use these stories as a starting point for further browsing.

My students have already said they find it useful, and I hope more can.

Follow me on @bgsmacca

Primaries are heating up

Monday, June 20, 2011

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A great introductory exercise for students new to US politics is to keep a close eye on the primaries, perhaps by setting aside a regular time each week for discussion. Doing so provides a number of insights into key syllabus areas, and stimulates thought, for instance, on questions such as why the US electorate has tended to favour Washington outsiders as nominees.

It’s also fascinating to see what a quite different beast the United States is, and how different the politics of the nation is compared to the UK.

For instance, here is a summary from yesterday’s Observer of the politics of Michele Bachmann:

‘Bachmann’s criticism of homosexuality is open and brutal. She has led the charge against gay marriage, even at the cost of a once-close relationship with a lesbian stepsister. In 2004 Bachmann said of gay people: “It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”

She is on record as viewing homosexuality as a “disorder” or a “sexual dysfunction” and is a staunchly anti-abortion Christian conservative. She believes Obama is “the final leap to socialism” in America, and has accused him of wanting to set up youth indoctrination camps for teenagers.

She has called for investigations into fellow congressional politicians to see if they are “anti-American”. She once claimed to know of a plan to give up half of Iraq to Iran. She is against raising America’s debt ceiling for running up its deficit, and wants to repeal healthcare reform in its entirety.

She is a firm sceptic on the dangers of global warming. She once introduced a resolution seeking to prevent the dollar being replaced by a foreign currency, despite the fact that such a move is already illegal. She has called the Environmental Protection Agency a “job-killing” organisation.’

Can you imagine a politician in the UK being taken seriously with that kind of profile?!

For full coverage check out the Washington Post 2012 page.

Why a legislator needs to be seen betting on an armadillo race

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gerrymandering during the process of redistricting that takes place every ten years has been criticised for decreasing the responsiveness of legislatures to the needs and wants of America as a whole, and instead reinforcing partisanship, and clogging up democracy.
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The state of California has just enacted a new proposal whereby an independent body redraws district boundaries rather than the politicians themselves. This could open up elections to genuine competition and act as a template for other states in the US.

Read the article here.
Here is a link to a short clip on the significance of gerrymandering - and the armadillo race

US federalism

Thursday, June 16, 2011

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A good example here of how the US Constitution allows for the defence of rights and liberties.

OK, many states in the US have passed amendments or penned legislation banning same sex marriage, but it remains the case as Andrew Sullivan once pointed out in a column comparing the UK and US, that in certain states gays can do things that those in the UK can’t, i.e. tie the knot.

New York state may soon join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in allowing same sex marriage. Mass was first off the mark, allowing same sex unions in 2004.

Thus states act as laboratories of democracy (Justice Brandeis) experimenting by pioneering different laws in a way that a unitary state such as the UK cannot.

You can see video coverage of the issue from the NYT here.

Evaluating the presidential candidate selection system

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

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This is a reposting of a blog entry I put up in January of 2008. The basic framework still applies, and maybe as a revision exercise students could update the arguments with a more recent example or two!

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Osama, Obama, and the power to persuade

Thursday, May 05, 2011

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I have been asked a number of times if Osama’s capture increases the prospects of Obama being re-elected in 2012. Of far more relevance to students looking to support their answers in American Politics is what impact Osama’s death will have on Obama’s relations with Congress, and his ability to pursue his policy/legislative agenda in the short term. It was Neustadt of course who said that the power of the president is the power to persuade. It would make sense therefore for Obama to use this short term boost to his popularity (I haven’t seen any poll numbers yet, but there is likely to be a second honeymoon effect) to boost his negotiating power with those working at the other end of the avenue. Popularity, as commentators have said this week, is not something you can bank for later. On this we should remember back to the presidency of George Bush senior. At a similar stage in the electoral cycle he was boosted in the opinion polls by defeating Saddam Hussain in Gulf War One. And what happened to his second term?! There’s a good feature on this with quotes by the likes of Mann and Sabato here.

One for the Gipper

Monday, February 14, 2011

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A great doc on Reagan is still avaliable on iplayer. The second half is strong on the strategies employed by Reagan as President in an attempt to fulfil the expectations that American people have of the POTUS.

Here is the link.

The economy and demography of the USA

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Californina sized hat tip to Ben on the Economics blog for highlighting the existence of this excellent graphic which compares US states to nations in terms of the size of their economies and populations.

I know this is thinking ahead, but after the AS exams any potential A2 American Politics groups I have are offered the chance to enter the post AS competition on America’s geography, demography and population - regular readers may have read about this exercise in previous postings.

Anyway, here is the link.

Gun crime USA

Friday, January 14, 2011

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I’m sure the Arizona shootings have provoked fierce debate about the rights and wrongs of gun ownership in the USA in classes this week, as they have mine.

Here is some data on gun laws internationally.

And in case you haven’t seen it, or want to watch it again, here is Obama’s speech at a memorial in Tuscon. Arguably this is Obama’s best oration since he was inaugurated.

Both items are taken from the Guardian’s excellent US gun crime page.

Obama and gay rights

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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I penned an article for t2u’s digital Politics magazine FPTP on this topic some months back, but events in Congress this week merit revisiting the issue.

The Senate’s decision this week to overturn the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which operates in the military whereby gay soldiers are allowed to serve so long as they are not explicit about their sexuality has come as a relief to a group which was once one of the most ardent set of supporters of Barack Obama.

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US Congress: allocating seats in the House

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Reapportionment and redistricting takes place after each decennial census. Figures for the 2010 census are due to be released shortly, and this USA Today video gives a short and helpful explanation of the reapportionment process.

For more on the reapportionment and redistricting process, see here.

It’s not all about race

Monday, November 22, 2010

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In the race relations element of Route C with Edexcel we talk a lot about synopticity and how it is important to approach questions from different perspectives. Often these are left/liberal versus right/conservative with shades of centrism in between.

So it makes good sense to argue in essays that “Those on the left would suggest race is a barrier in the USA because…”, or “Those on the right would say that affirmative action is not necessary because…” before going on to explain the competing arguments.

But it is important to note that sometimes there is overlap between the two sides on reasons why something is the way it is. And we should bear in mind that both sides accept that there may be other contributory factors. Essentially it is a question about the extent both sides agree in something, and often opponents are not completely dismissive of arguments proposed by the other side. For instance, those on the right may accept that some racism still exists in the United States, but that this does not mean that it is an insurmountable barrier. Equally, those on the left may accept that welfare dependence is a problem to a degree but that the long term effects deeply entrenched divides in US society outweigh its importance in explaining inequalities between whites and blacks in modern US society.

This brings me to an excellent article in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Read it and I hope that you will never be tempted to write that all Tea Partyists are motivated by race.

WWOD?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

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What will Obama do?

Given the hammering the President’s party received at the 2010 midterms, the following months will provide an excellent case study in executive leadership.

Part of me wants to point students to putting half an eye on questions about the presidency in next summer’s exams. The other parts simply wants students of Politics to take note of what will surely be a fascinating period of presidential politics. Either way, what should crop up is a rich vein of material relating to the following:

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How did they vote?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

There’s a good interactive graphic section on WSJ site, showing the demographic breakdown for 2010 according to exit polls.

You can find it here

Which groups of voters vote for either the Democrats or Republicans and why has been a common short answer in the past. This site provides some useful data and analysis.

Should murderers have the right to vote?

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Students often state that one of the reasons Britain is not a true democracy is because prisoners don’t have the right to vote. This is true in the majority of cases, though convicts imprisoned for non-payment of fines do retain their voting rights.

The question of giving prisoners voting rights is an old debating chestnut. See here.

Yesterday the DPM, Nick Ckegg, went to the high court to lift the ban on prisoners, but as the Guardian reported he was looking for a way to avoid giving murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders voting rights. This has all come about as a result of a ruling by the ECHR in Strasbourg in 2005 which stated that Britain’s blanket ban was unlawful. So I guess this also serves as a good example of judges protecting civil liberties also.

This is a far cry from the USA of course, where a large number of states ban ex-felons for a period following their release. And in the state of Virginia, those convicted of a felony are banned for life! Many in the US see these types of policies as racist given the disproportionately large number of black prisoners, a significant number of whom are incarcerated as a result of the ramping up of drugs laws from the 1970s onwards. There’s a good webiste on the American debate called procon.org if readers want to pursue their interest in the debate further.

And in no way am I endorsing this, but Melanie Phillips has let go on the issue too.

A fresh look at the importance of PMQs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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There’s a really good feature on prime minister’s questions in today’s Observer.

PMQs are seen by many as the high point of the parliamentary week, allowing the opposition a chance to try and catch the PM out with surprise questions, and have often led to heated debate.Margaret Thatcher as PM in the 1980s was known to prepare fastidiously for PMQs, spending as much as eight hours getting ready for what was then a fifteen minute slot. She put this work to good effect, managing to see off the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, in 1986 when she could have been vulnerable at the time of the Westland affair.

I would argue, however, that whilst PMQs may not serve as an especially useful mechanism for scrutinising the actions of the executive (select committees are much more effective), they can help colour our perceptions of the party leaders. And if the party leaders don’t perform confidently during the contest, and there are whispers throughout Whitehall about their leadership skills, then poor displays on a regular basis can make them extremely vulnerable. Someone once described David Cameron’s attacks when in opposition against Gordon Brown as having the effect of making the PM look like a wounded bear. And I would argue that this didn’t help protect him from the internal challenges he faced during the fag end days of his government - as revelations in the run up to the general election and afterwards would corroborate.

Read on for the link, and a couple of related exercises.

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Great background reading for typical US politics exam questions

Saturday, October 30, 2010

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This week’s edition of the Economist has a load of material that is ideal for inclusion in answers to some of the most common exam questions. These should be read now, and stored in files or folders for use later when preparing for essays or short answers.

This one on Obama covers a load of ground on presidential success and failure. Why are some presidents more successful than others? Why are second term presidencies less successful? etc. It covers Obama’s legislative and policy accomplishments and gives an objective view of why he could and should have done better. This is it here.

How important are midterms? Well, some are more important than others, and 2010 is one of the more signifcant contests. This article clearly explains why.

Why do blacks vote Democratic? Some good quotes and analysis here.

Which groups of voters vote Democratic is a common short answer question or forms part of a longer essay on voting behaviour. Groups that sway Democrat can be identified by gender, demography, race, geography, income, and age. This article looks at the importance of the youth vote.

Initiatives and propositions November 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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A heads up on a great site for checking up on the ballot measures at next week’s polls (what one commentator is calling indecision day).

Interesting stuff. You probably know Californians will decide on marijuana use, but what about states considering a ban on affirmative action?

Half Term reading

Monday, October 25, 2010

Here is a collection of some of the most interesting and/or thought provoking material I have come across over the past few days. The autumn break is always a good time to recharge the batteries, but it is also a good opportunity for students to expose themeselves to quality writing. I have become increasingly convinced that a regular diet of good article reading is fundamental to developing a proper understanding of politics.

First off, Martin Kettle argues that the Chancellor is a One Nation Tory. Some may argue the opposite, but Kettle produces some solid evidence.

A portrait of the First Lady.

From the Economist, a good piece on the importance of states. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it sometimes comes as a surprise to students that the single individual politician who most impacts on the day to day life of US citizens in policy terms is the state governor. I wish the US Politics syllabus would acknowledge this in some way, with more attention paid to state politics. Perhaps a case study on the politics of an indvidual state, varying from exam to exam?? Anyway, here is the link.

Lexington offers a feature on Obama and blue collar whites which suggests that while overt racism in the US is pretty much a thing of the past, the country is still divided by the issue.

A heads up on Will Hutton’s latest on fairness in the UK.

Weekend selection

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sunday

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The Argument of the Right

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At the Conservative Party Conference last week, Daniel Hannan MEP was a hugely popular speaker at the right-wing fringe events. A cogent, articulate and personable man, he is the current hero of the recidivist Tory right. Although he is a British representative in the European Parliament, his real ideological home is America, and he has just written “The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America”, in which he urges them not to follow the European route towards statism and welfare. To mark its publication, he has been interviewed by the right-wing National Review, and the interview makes for genuinely fascinating reading. He correctly marks the historical beginning of America’s move towards greater federal state action with the two Roosevelts, especially FDR. He rightly sees FDR as in some ways a model for Obama, although draws, naturally enough, rather different conclusions to those of liberal sympathisers from this comparison.

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Accessible article on US midterms, with questions

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I came across this article in the Guardian this week. Lots of fodder for class discussion or as a homework exercise

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US Supreme Court 2010 style

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Here is a good article for introducing the court, with some questions for discussion.

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What’s up with Obama?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

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Students of US politics should be keeping a close eye on the Obama presidency as a case study on leadership stretch and the constitutional limits of the office.

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Friday afternoon lesson (in?)activity: more power to the mob?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

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We all know lessons Friday after lunch are a necessary evil. But if this doesn’t get discussion going for students of politics…?

This November, it is widely expected that Americans will go to the polls to deliver a quasi-referendum on Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House. Though in many ways voters will equally be delivering a general anti-government protest given that the GOP is slightly more unpopular than the Democrats. But also on the same day Californians will go to the polls to deliver a verdict on whether Marijuana should effectively be decriminalised.

This is an excellent case study which can be used to toss around the for and against points in respect of direct democracy:

Are voters sufficiently well informed?
Does it lead to the tyranny of the majority - or even the tyranny of the minority, if you don’t feel that Mill’s point had any validity (and some don’t)
Can finance skew the issue?
Can complex issues be reduced to simple binary options?

And if nothing else, what about a general discussion of the legality of cannabis use? Andrew Sullivan doesn’t think a vote in favour of Prop 19 would be the worst thing that west coasters have ever done.

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Tea Party round-up

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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The US media is in a frenzy at the moment over the meaning and potential long term impact of the Tea Party movement. The UK papers this weekend have reacted to this as well and this is a development well worth discussing in a review of the latest news from the US in lesson time this week.

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American inequality

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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What might students of politics make of the latest economic data from the USA which points to a widening gap between rich and poor?

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A more ideologically cohesive GOP?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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What conclusions, if any, can we draw from the Tea Party surge within the Republican Party?

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Top venues for learning about US politics

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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If you are a student of American politics, then this post early in the academic year could well be my most important…

These are the sites I most frequently plunder when trying to keep abreast of developments in US politics. These are also the places therefore that I suggest students of the subject try to access as much as possible when trying to get to grips with the politics of the USA. In the same way as linguists recommend immersion learning when studying a new language, getting stuck into some of the US sites really does help.

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Commander in Chief 2012 doesn’t like teachers

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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This video is strange on so many levels.
See the CNN report with subtitles (not really necessary given the depth and extent of the Palin vocab) here.
Helpful to see, though, the Sarah for Prez support team gesticulate as to how the US is bigger than Alaska. Well, I guess that’s progress.
Hail to the chief?

US politics: courts and civil rights

Friday, August 06, 2010

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It is rare that a court case at a lower level than the US Supreme Court hits the headlines in America, but in a landmark ruling the California district of the US federal courts overturned Proposition 8, an initiative which banned California’s gay marriage law.

It is uncertain whether the ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger will trigger any new marriages between same sex couples in the state, but it is likely that campaigners in favour of defending traditional marriage will appeal and that the case will wind its way to the US Supreme Court.

This is the first time that federal judges have ruled on a same sex marriage case, and the outcome only affects the state of California, not the many other states that have constitutional or legal bans on gay marriage. Gay rights activists feared defeat would set back their cause for a generation, and stakes remain high on both sides of the debate, as a final ruling by judges in Washington could fundamentally alter the social topography of the United States. In the more immediate term, the issue is something of a hot potato for the November elections, with politicians from both parties expected to take sides on this issue.

More detail on the story from the washingtonpost.com website here.

Not all it’s cracked up to be?

Friday, July 30, 2010

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Students tackling race relations on edexcel 3c frequently cite the asymmetric treatment afforded to blacks in the judicial-legal system as ongoing evidence of racism and/or racial inequality.

In particular, common reference is made to the much tougher punishment for possession/dealing crack as opposed to powdered cocaine. From a personal perspective it is a shame that often what’s missing from this discourse is the argument that black community leaders and politicians trigerred a ramping up of the crack laws since the drug was devastating housing project areas with a large concentration of black residents.

Anyway, I received this email update from the NAACP. This is a useful way of keeping up-to-date with race issues, since I often don’t come across them in a normal day’s reading of washingtonpost.com.

Read on…

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Federalism in action

Monday, July 26, 2010

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There are a couple of interesting social policy issues getting a lot of attention in the US at the moment, and they act as a useful way of introducing the concept of federal-state relations.

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Midterms 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

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There’s a great piece in this week’s Economist which looks ahead to the 2010 election.

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Palin - the first ever?

Monday, July 12, 2010

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When conducting research for my previous posting I came across this.  It seems that I can’t include three youtube clips in one posting, and it is a shame not to share this if you haven’t already seen it.

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Sarah Palin for 2012?

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Down the left hand side of this page, often newsmax ask you to vote on whether Sarah Palin would get your vote in 2012.  She is the theme of this posting.

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Racial equality in Obama’s America

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Guardian reports that:

“A huge wealth gap has opened up between black and white people in the US over the past quarter of a century – a difference sufficient to put two children through university – because of racial discrimination and economic policies that favour the affluent.

A typical white family is now five times richer than its African-American counterpart of the same class, according to a report released today by Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

White families typically have assets worth $100,000 (£69,000), up from $22,000 in the mid-1980s. African-American families’ assets stand at just $5,000, up from around $2,000.

A quarter of black families have no assets at all. The study monitored more than 2,000 families since 1984.”

See the full story here.

The worst campaign ad ever?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The demon sheep ad produced as part of the Republican Senate primary campaign in California is being widely hailed as a pythonesque absurd spoof, but is actually a sign of poor political taste…

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What Went Wrong With Barack Obama?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Barack Obama was always going to find it well night impossible to live up to the expectations that greeted his election in some quarters.  Even so, his presidency has been looking more than a little troubled.  His personal charisma still goes far (his State of the Union address was masterly, and his televised Question and Answer with Republican senators showed an authority that had them regretting the presence of cameras), which is what perhaps makes the limitations of his governing even more stark.  One excellent survey of the ‘Obama problem’ is provided by Edward Luce in the Financial Times.  Luce focuses on the four key insiders who were so crucial to Obama’s election in the first place - Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Communications Chief Robert Gibbs and Senior Advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett - and criticises the exclusive nature of their relationship with the president.  He is still campaigning rather than governing, suggests Luce, and in the process is excluding a host of able and supportive figures.

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The Daily Show does Palin

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I’m sure teachers of American Politics won’t need reminding about the virtues of watching the Daily Show, but students may need a gentle reminder.

The episode broadcast in the UK last night contained a hilarious analysis of Sarah Palin’s major speech at the Tea Party conference in Nashville.  Palin is a phenomenon and never quite manages to steer herself away from unintended controversy.  If you’re not sure what I’m on about watch a replay from the Channel 4 website.  Of course, Jon Stewart is presenting from a left wing perspective and I share many of his personal biases, so it may not be to everyone’s taste!!

Watch by clicking here.

Two halves of a bank note

Friday, February 05, 2010

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How successful has Obama been in delaing with Congress?

Listen to this audio clip from national public radio to find out!

Obama and the State of the Union

Monday, February 01, 2010
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Obama’s first State of the Union

Thursday, January 28, 2010

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I’ve just started the power of the presidency, and intend to use Obama’s address to Congress as part of delivery.  Here’s the link to the video

Obama’s approval ratings

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Real Clear Politics was a must visit site during the 2008 Presidential Campaign - it continues to provide superb coverage. Here is the link to the regular flow of approval ratings for the President.

Still more Obama - and ideas for a webquest

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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There’s a useful two page spread on Obama’s presidency one year on in today’s Independent—here is the link to the web version.

The BBC devotes a special section to the one year anniversary.

And see how you get on with the one year quiz!!!

I’m definitely going to use all the abundant material for students to do a webquest presentation on his first year.  A nice way to start Unit 4C having just completed the 3C exam.  Andy Lawrence has posted details of a similar exercise on Cameron the t2u Pol teachers forum.

More useful Obama article and video links

Monday, January 18, 2010

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More interesting stuff on Obama for teaching and learning.  A great article on Obama and race here.  Younge is a corking journalist who has written two very readable books on the US, which are suggested reading for students of America.  He has also made a documentary for the World Service entitled “Opposing Obama”, first airing scheduled for the 1st of Feb. List of times is here.

Andrew Sullivan casts a cool eye over Obama in an article on his first year.  Newsnight’s Gavin Esler, a man who spent a few years in the US for the BBC, should be worth watching on Wednesday.

Obama and me on BBC Two might not offer great academic insight, but may give you a slice of insight into modern America.

Top 20 Conservatives and Liberals in America

Saturday, January 16, 2010

These lists are always a flawed parlour game, but they are fascinating and they do provoke debate.  The Daily Telegraph is the latest to publish lists of the ‘most influential’ American public figures, producing lists for both conservative and liberal individuals. No surprises about Barack Obama as the country’s most influential liberal, but Dick Cheney at the top of the conservative list might prompt more reaction, while George W. Bush languishes at No. 12.  Anyway, whether you agree with the rankings or not, the short biogs certainly illuminate a number of key individuals in US politics, and can be used to prompt debate in class.

Obama links

Friday, January 15, 2010

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There’s a raft of material out there on Obama at the moment to coincide with the President’s first year in office.  This seems like the second anniversary in recent months since the media sought to celebrate his “first year” back in Nobvember when, of course, this marked 12 months since he was elected, not when he was sworn in.

See the Financial Times for an overview and analysis.

The Economist has a lengthy feature

For the next few days you can see the second part of Simon Schama’s BBC documentary on Obama.

Schama on Obama

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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Another documentary heads up

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Divides in American party politics

Monday, January 11, 2010

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Two great articles for prompting discussion on intra and inter party rivalry in American politics.

First, Andrew Sullivan looks at the rabid right wing nativist nature of the Republicans here.  This suggests therefore that there are deep partisan divides in America at present.  But closer analysis of the parties also reveals divisions within the Democrats.  As far as some within the party are concerned, Obama’s first year has been a let down.  Read about how Obama has come under attack from the left here.

Greed is good?: Corporate lobbying and US society

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Useful US pressure groups example
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Questions about the corrosive effects of big business in the US has tended to focus on the political damage they cause.  But a new study by the IMF (of all groups!) strongly suggests that the sector of the financial industry that spends the biggest bucks on lobbying is also the most underpeforming and therefore is costing the American public.  Thus there is a strong argument to suggest that they are damaging to US society as well.

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The president and the American political system

Thursday, December 31, 2009

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It often surprises people that America, a country with arguably the most dynamic market economy, possesses a politcal system that lends itself towards stasis.  Opposing forces push and pull at each other and this is down to the numerous checks and balances the framers designed into the constitution.  As one of them said, ambition must be made to counter ambition.  Constitutionally the president is granted only limited powers, must since the 1930s especially he is burdened with enormous expectations.  The de jure limits on the president’s powers can only be overcome with adroit use of informal powers.  As one constitutional scholar put it, the president has only the power to persuade. 

With Obama’s stock in the USA declining it is worth bearing in mind what the 44th incumbent of the White House has achieved.

Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Sunday Times, argues that Obama is achieving large change on an incremental basis.  This is a useful article to consider when looking at the powers of the president, separation of powers, checks and balances, and the extent to which the constitution is a barrier to good government.

Here is the link.

The Decade of Terror - Reuters Pictures of the Decade

A stunning online slideshow here from Reuters tells the story of a decade of global terror and violence.  Many of the images are hard-hitting.  All are thought-provoking. An amazing resource to use as stimulus material for Politics units covering global issues.

Launch Reuters Images of the Decade

Disadvantages of direct democracy

Monday, December 28, 2009

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There’s a great article in the xmas double issue of the Economist on the perils of direct democracy.  A useful source of arguments and examples for those covering the UK and US participation in politics modules.

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Obama’s First Year

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

As President Obama announces his long awaited Afghan strategy, attention is starting to move towards assessing the impact of his first year in office.  Too timid on health reform?  Is Afghanistan the new Vietnam?  Is foreign policy a mess?  The right think he’s in trouble, the left think he’s too timid (read this excoriating attack from the First Post’s Alexander Cockburn).  But as the debate begins, Obama supporters might take heart from this very upbeat assessment in the online magazine Slate.com.  Jacob Weisberg goes so far as to suggest that Obama’s first year is the most successful since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s.  Read it and weep - if you’re a Republican - or cheer - if you’re a Democrat.  And it’s only Year 1!

Political Donations by Your Favourite US Brands

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I wish there was something similar to this available for UK businesses.  Here is a fascinating interactive graphic which displays the political leanings of hundreds of leading US businesses and brands - based on their total political contributions.

The logic of communities segregated by race?

Monday, November 30, 2009

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I wonder if this clip by Tim Harford will provoke debate among students about race, whether in the UK or the USA.

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Glenn Beck: the renegade running the opposition to Obama

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Want to get a flavour of the degree of partisanship in modern American politics?

Say the Observer:

“Glenn Beck is a TV host, bestselling author and the most influential voice on the rightwing Fox channel. Now, even some Republicans worry that the extreme and maverick views of Beck and his supporters will make their party unelectable. Is the TV tail wagging the political dog?”

Read the rest of the article and listen to this classic five minute radio rant by the man himself.  It takes a little time to load up, but it is hilarious.  And just a little bit scary!

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American Politics revision: seven exam tips

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I’ve just sent this to my upper sixth sets.  It may be of some wider use.

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A shifting US electorate

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Washington Post has produced time slider to see how Democratic and Republican candidates have fared in presidential and congressional elections over the past 50 years. Here is the link.

Don’t mess with Texas?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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For reasons that are possibly too mundane to go into I have just read the special report on Texas from a summer edition of the Economist.

It is absolutely fascinating as a means of gaining a deeper insight into a rapidly changing state, and is a treasure trove of Americana.  Did you know for instance that Texas is one of four states where whites are a minority, or that tequila was invented there?

I recommend:

Lone Star rising
The best and worst of Texas
The red and the blue
The new face of America

A Republican revival?

Once a week my students are expected to contribute something to our media sessions.  A useful way to break a double, to be sure, but these are designed to supplement learning.  I usually keep something up my sleave just in case discussion doesn’t flow—though thus far it has yet to be a problem.

Here was last week’s from the Independent’s Big Question series.

The geography of US jobs

Monday, November 09, 2009

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One of my colleagues at school sent me this link at the weekend which displays a fascinating graphic of job creation and loss in the USA over the last few years.  It gives the lie to the idea that there is such a thing as a national economy, even if there is a national picture.

It also serves to explain why despite a recent upsurge in gdp, many Americans are unhappy about the state of the economy—jobs are the pain that communities feel and make sense of.  Though a note of caution here since it only gives data to July 2009.

The link is here.

Media Monday Motown

Monday, November 02, 2009

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This week for our American Politics media sessions we have been looking at a quite fascinating article about industrial decline in the USA. This tells us a lot about where power lies in America and is a useful basis for considering the extent to which America does really live up to the ideals it proclaims to stand for.

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Who’s that guy?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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Only the 33rd most powerful man in Washington DC who is not called Obama or Biden.

So says GQ magazine (of all places) in their much anticipated DC power 50.  Believe it or not this was one of the buzz topics in the American capital when I was over there recently.  Hardly surprising in the most power obsessed city on earth. To paraphrase Michael Heseltine who was commenting on the ranking order of seats in Cabinet, everyone says it doesn’t matter to them, but of course it does.  Terribly.

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Gun crime debate

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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It’s not so much the graphic and the info on the decline in support for gun control in America, it’s the readers’ comments that are worth looking at.  I particularly like the British v American stuff, as if that had anything to do with it: why does a comment on American society and politics by a non-native invite criticism of that person’s country?  Touchy!

Federalism: advantages and disadvantages

Sunday, October 04, 2009

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Readers may be aware that America operates a federal system where national and state governments are theoretically sovereign in certain spheres.  In practical terms this vertical separation of power is much more blurred, but it does mean that individual states have much more individual responsibility for policy within their territories than do the devolved regions in the UK.  The consequences of allowing states to essentially go it alone are mixed.  A magazine article in today’s Observer looks at the current crisis in California.  It is interesting, well written and contains lots of good examples for someone wishing to assess the pros and cons of America’s federal arrangements.

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Blank Palin

Saturday, October 03, 2009

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Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s (ghostwritten) autobiography is due for release next month, and has already shot to the top of the bestseller charts.

Say the Guardian:
“News of the autobiography’s release has already prompted a string of jokes by the late night talkshow hosts reminding the wider public about Palin’s shortcomings.

“Critics say that it starts out okay, it gets really exciting and then confusing, and then the last 100 pages are blank,” said comedian Jimmy Fallon.”

USA: who runs government?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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I’ve been like a child with a new toy today, spending hours browsing on the Washington Post’s “Who runs gov?” pages.

The site contains up to date and interesting to read profiles of the people pulling the strings of American government.  A great resource for students and teachers of American Politics.

I’ve come up with a list of 10 of the most influential politicians in the USA, some of which you will have heard of and some you won’t.

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Book review value

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A quick posting to say that the book review pages are often a good source of political info, even for cash and time poor students with no intention of making a purchase.  Details of a new publication on Clinton were in the Sunday Times at the weekend and contained some fascinating nuggets.

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Pick of the papers

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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On the UK front the papers seem to be dominated by analysis of the party political debate on tax and spending.  For instance the Observer carries a front page story suggesting that the Tory attacks on Labour spending plans may backfire.

Here a Sunday Times editorial welcomes the development of a more open debate on the issue.

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When it comes to American politics, coverage of the debate about Obama and racism dominates with acres of newsprint given over to this story.

Here Paul Harris reports from South Carolina, a state at the heart of the race row.

Keith Richburg, in an editorial piece, argues that Obama’s election victory is not proof of a post racial America.

Andrew Sullivan takes an in depth look at the race debate and outlines its significance for the Republicans.

Is opposition to Obama racist?

Friday, September 18, 2009

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Former President (1977-1981) Jimmy Carter is the most senior Democrat to comment publicly that the venomous nature of the opposition to Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms can only be explained by racist undertones.

Racism continues to be the most divisive social problem in the United States, an issue that is never far beneath the surface when African Americans are the subject of political discourse.  This is partly explained by the legacy of slavery and segregation - both of which were outlawed much later in the USA than other comparable democracies.  You may recall, for instance, Muhammed Ali’s visit to the UK recently when the TV news channels broadcasted mini biographies of the boxer’s life, including Ali discussing how he was refised service at a lunch counter despite having won his country the gold medal in heavyweight boxing at the previous Olympics.  This was, of course, as recently as the 1960s.

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Obama health care speech reaction

Thursday, September 10, 2009

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An energised and passionate President Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress.  Will it be enough?

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Focus on US health care

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Watch this report by Lyndsey Hilsum from Wednesday’s Channel 4 news.

Hope for health care

The President needs Congress

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The significance of the separation of powers is to be highlighted in perfect Technicolor later today when President Obama appears before a joint session of Congress to make a speech that he hopes will save his healthcare reform proposals (well, promises since he hasn’t actually been very specific about what he wants).

Most people expect Obama to be happy with some sort of healthcare package passing, even if it doesn’t include a government backed plan to insure Americans currently without coverage.

Bronwen Maddox in the Times takes up the story:

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Obama’s Waterloo?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

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This year is a great one to be studying American politics (ditto on this side of the Atlantic given that we have a general election on the horizon that looks odds on to deliver a change in government), as we watch Obama try to transfer the electricity and excitement he generated during his election campaign into doemstic polciy success.  Now that the congressional recess is over after the summer, Obama must seek to win approval from sufficient numbers of the House and Senate to bring insurance coverage to over 40 million American citizens currently without it.

There’s a very good piece here outlining the challange Obama faces in trying to reconcile differences between Democrats and Republicans.  As the adviser to his predecessor as President points out, failure on healthcare reform could be Obama’s Waterloo.  This is why Obama is placing all his cards on the table by making a speech to Congress on Wednesday.  Watch out for that!!

After Ted: more Kennedys for Massachusetts?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

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The Big Question runs a feature on the rather complex dynamics of choosing a replacement for his vacant Senate seat, which has been controlled by his family for over 50 years.

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Obama and racism

Monday, August 17, 2009

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Do you think that the Obama presidency means that race is no longer a problem in America?

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In case you didn’t already know

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hillary Clinton is the Secretary of State!

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Media Monday in absentia

Saturday, August 01, 2009

There are obviously no lessons at the minute since we are bang in the middle of the summer break, but I thought I’d draw your attention to a piece that would be surefire favourite for the Media Monday sessions.  It is packed full of detail and analysis on the factors that determine the success of a presidency.  I intend to put it to one side until it comes to teaching this topic later in the year.

Keeping up with Obama

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I’m posting a couple of details for those who are looking to keep up tp date with the Obama presidency.

There’s a good feature on Obama’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East in the Guardian.

But Lexington argues that Obama is only likely to disappoint his supporters.

Obama and the race row

Saturday, July 25, 2009

That race relations continues to be America’s most intractable social problem was brought to the surface again this week.

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Less advice and consent?

Sometimes when assesing the US Constitution we should be careful that we are addressing the contents of the document and not actions by politicians who claim to be acting out their constitutional role.  One such example is the process by which federal judges are confirmed.

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Obama effect?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Politics in the US continus to be dominated by health care and the Sotomayor nomination.  But I came across this little cut and keep nugget on voter turnout.

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Can Obama meet the health care challenge?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I know there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the blog at the moment on the Obama Presidency, but a new White House incumbent gives us the chance to analyse the intricate workings of politics inside the beltway.

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Obama health check

Monday, July 20, 2009

President Obama’s campaign pledge to widen health coverage to as many of the non insured as possible is stumbling amid partisan wrangling

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Whither support for war on terror?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

There’s a fine piece of writing by Tim Garton Ash in Thursday’s Guardian on how the war on the faltering economy has put thoughts about the so called war on terror to the back of many peoples’ minds.

“The first thing I see every time I come to New York is something that is not there. That soaring absence of the twin towers on the skyline of Manhattan remains this city’s most haunting presence. A landmark of air. But the shadow cast by the absent twin towers is no longer the defining feature of world politics in the way that the shadow cast by the Berlin Wall was for nearly 30 years. Most people don’t any more feel that we live in a “war on terror” in the way that we did feel that we lived in a cold war. Not across the world. Not in America. Not even in New York.”

Sotomayor and being sleepless in Seattle

A combination of reverse jetlag and too many visits to Seattle’s many and varied coffeehouses has resulted in being glued to the late night news shows.  The consensus amongst the talking heads, even those on Fox’s far right broadcasts, is that the hearings for Sonia Sotomayor have been a straightforward proces, lacking any real controversy.

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Obama and race

The discussion about Barack Obama’s African heritage has obviously moved on from discussion about whether the USA was ready for a black President.  This week Obama shifted the debate onto discussion about how black America could write its own destiny.

This should provide a good point of discussion for students examining racial politics in the USA.

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Obama lacking leadership?

So claims one of the leading commentators on US politics in a recent column in Time Magazine.

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Obama and Africa

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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As if Barack Obama didn’t have enough on his plate as American President, he has taken time to forge a new direction in US foreign policy on Africa. Last week he made a bold speech where he argued that the continent could no longer apportion the blame on the effects of colonialism.

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Did you know?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sometimes the process of examining means that you learn new things.  According to one candidate it is illegal to eat chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Georgia.

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Checking out?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What do a couple of the most powerful men in the world get up to at international summits?

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Who’s Roe in Roe v Wade?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

There’s a great feature on the woman who was at the centre in one of the most famous and controversial Supreme Court judgments in American history.  Quite how did this woman switch from being the poster girl of the pro-choice movement to fulfilling the same role for the anti-abortionists?  Those readers possessing the vaguest familiarity with American politics and society will not be shocked when they discover the answer.

Read the article here.

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