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!read more...»
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…read more...»
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.
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.
There are ongoing debates about what useful purpose Parliament serves
A recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee criticising the government’s policy on the police once again highlights how Parliament performs an important oversight function.
“The Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism role should be given to the new National Crime Agency when it becomes operational in 2013, MPs say.
The Home Affairs Select Committee says the change would mean less intervention in the Met by the Home Secretary and its accountability would be clearer.
Its adds that uncertainty over police reforms for England and Wales could be damaging to the 43 forces.”
We can add this latest example to a study note below that I have written on how Parliament checks the executive…read more...»
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…read more...»
Having covered a fair amount of UK highlights, I thought I’d link to some top clips I use in US politics teaching.
These are all pre-Obama. I’m working on bringing video material on the current POTUS together for a future posting.
Happy viewing!read more...»
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.
“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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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…
Voter perceptions of economic performance and the link with the White House incumbent are a large driver of elections.
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.
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.
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.
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…read more...»
This is essentially a posting about the virtues of the CNN app for US Politics students
If you are a constitutional reform anorak like me, you will probably have already been accessing the new and significantly improved site at UCL’s Constitution Unit.
In addition to the very detailed reports they publish on the constitution, it is now possible to watch videos of events held at the unit, and details of forthcoming events are laid out more clearly.
Not only can it be plundered for detailed analysis of constitutional reform, but if Politics students want to supplement their personal statements in order to show that their level of interest really does extend beyond the classroom, then making use of what’s on offer from the unit creates a much better impression than saying you like watching the BBC’s Question Time.
Here is a link to a video recording of an excellent presentation by Professor Vernon Bogdanor on the coalition and the constitution as a starting off point for investigating the site’s contents.
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.
This weekend’s Guardian contained a leader suggesting that Scottish voters are delivering mixed messages at the polling booth, having swept the SNP to power at Holyrood then backing Labour at the recent Inverclyde by-election.
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 good update on my posting about where camp Obama is on gay marriage.
How are relations between the Obama camp, and a key constitutency within the Democrat Party?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
A good example of pressure groups in action.
If you are doing OCR’s comparative paper, answers on the role of judges in different political systems can be developed impressively with reference to the ECJ and ECHR. These are frequently confused and assessment of their role can lack depth.
The Charlemagne column in the Economist provides a handy overview of their place in Europe, with excellent examples and analysis.
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!
The clash between Parliament and the Judiciary in recent weeks has raised important questions about the independence and neutrality of the judiciary.
It is important to recognise that the twin issues of independence and neutrality are distinct, but they do overlap when we consider who it is that should be making the law.
This debate is also a useful one to consider in terms of constitutional reform issues.read more...»
Some interesting insights on powers/role of the PM, relations with Cabinet, and role of Cabinet in last night’s Dispatches.
These up-to-date examples should help strengthen answers on this, the most popular Unit 2 topic area.
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.
As apathy upon wave of apathy has been heaped on the AV referendum debate, I thought I’d share with you a leader from the Times yesterday, urging voters to vote against. I don’t necessarily share the preference against, but it’s a useful addition to the compendium of material on electoral systems that teachers may have accumulated over the past several months. The strength of the argument presented, however, relates to the more glaring weaknesses in our government furniture. That said, it is likely that a wider debate on our constitution would stir up as much interest as the one focusing on this narrow feature of it.read more...»
There have been some great case studies of pressure group activity in the press this week. This is hardly surprising given the speed and scale of the government’s reforms since coming to power last year and events over the next few months should give students ample opportunity to assess both the effectiveness of different methods of pressure group activity and the extent to which they help or hinder democracy.
The Sunday Times carried a couple of good stories rich with examples and argument relating to the ECHR. Useful at AS when looking at judges and civil liberties, as well as consideration of parliamentary sovereignty. Also useful for OCR comparative papers when looking at the idea of legislating from the bench.
If you have paywall access, they can be found here.
Just over 20 days left to catch More 4’s excellent behind the scenes documentary on Britain’s Supreme Court.
A couple of good articles here for students of AS Politics on stories that tend not to feature much (perhaps for good reason, in the view of some) on the main news programmes at the minute.
One by Henry Porter on the Con-Lib coalition’s plans to undo Labour’s attacks on civil liberties.
And another on the proposed elections referendum and the significance of changing the voting system from one columnist’s perspective.
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.
The steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain has been cited in recent years by campaigners as evidence of weaknesses of the UK constitution, or the poor state of our democracy. It was said that Labour seemed to give with one hand, whilst taking with the other. Despite steps in the right direction as a result of the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, rights are still not adequately protected since they lack entrenchment in our political system. That civil liberties receive little protection was illustrated in full Technicolor by Blair’s fourfold extension of detention without trial. ASBOs have created a criminal class of innocent civilians. So what of the current government?
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.
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.
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.
BBC Parliament broadcasted an excellent “The Record Europe” programme over the Christmas period. It is something of s shame that the EU has been trimmed from the AS course since I think it is a fascinating political project and in the UK there is a great deal of myth and propaganda about it.
This recording is on iplayer and features the normally controversial Nigel Farage.
If there isn’t time to squeeze it into lesson delivery then I think it is worth considering as an off syllabus project as part of a Politics Society feature. It might also interest Route D followers.
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.read more...»
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.
Whilst this week’s announcement that Gus O’Donnell, the UK’s most senior mandarin, we have a draft Cabinet manual in circulation doesn’t bring us any closer to codification of the constitution, it does offer lots of interesting source material on what government is and does.
Promises made by leaders in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay that the devolved governments will pay for the proposed hike in tuition fees have led some to argue that we are witnessing the development of educational apartheid.
This latest controversy gives us a chance to revisit the debate on devolution.read more...»
According to guardian.co.uk:
“The controversy over honours for political benefactors was reopened today with the appointment of a clutch of party donors and political apparatchiks as working peers.
The millionaire car importer Bob Edmiston, who gave £2m to the Tories, the Conservative party treasurer Stanley Fink, and the Labour donor Sir Gulam Noon were among 54 new working peers announced by Downing Street today.
Howard Flight, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and Tina Stowell, a former deputy chief of staff to William Hague when he was opposition leader, were also on the list.”read more...»
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:read more...»
The idea that MPs are simply lobby fodder has been challenged in recent times, and it can be argued that this picture is misleading. New research on the voting behaviour of coalition MPs suggests rebellion is at a postwar high.
There’s a good interactive graphic section on WSJ site, showing the demographic breakdown for 2010 according to exit polls.
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.
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.
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.read more...»
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.
I think I blogged on this previously, but here is a reminder of a neat little exercise for teachers and students. It doesn’t take long, and proved highly popular with my students last year.
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.
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.
I came across this article in the Guardian this week. Lots of fodder for class discussion or as a homework exerciseread more...»
Here is a good article for introducing the court, with some questions for discussion.read more...»
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.
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.
What might students of politics make of the latest economic data from the USA which points to a widening gap between rich and poor?
What conclusions, if any, can we draw from the Tea Party surge within the Republican Party?
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.read more...»
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?
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.
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.
There’s a great piece in this week’s Economist which looks ahead to the 2010 election.
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.
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.
Further to my earlier posting on resources for the UK syllabus, listed below are the US books I have as desk copies.
Advance notice of a couple of Vietnam related documentaries this week as part of the excellent Storyville series. Vietnam is a war that has left deep scars on the American psyche and heavily shaped US foreign policy through to the 9/11 era. Monday 15 February, BBC4 10pm.
A little while back I penned an article for t2u’s digital politics magazine outlining the steps that would need to be taken for electoral reform to become a reality for Westminster. In summary, these were: a possible hung parliament; a PM committed to change; a majority of Cabinet; MP support; safe passage through the Lords; and at some stage in all of this a plebiscite of the people.
Like an alignment of the stars, this seems to be taking shape.
Yesterday’s vote on a vote in the Commons on AV brings us closer to moving from simple plurality than at any stage in recent history.
The BBC has some great graphics on how a remodelled election would have played out over the past three decades. Useful stuff for considering the merits of change. From a personal perspective, this move by Labour continues the British tradition of tinkering with the constitution for reasons of short term political expediency. In other words, Brown is trying to cuddle up to the Lib Dems—a horrible image for all sorts of reasons.
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!!
How successful has Obama been in delaing with Congress?
Listen to this audio clip from national public radio to find out!
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
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 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.
Obama and me on BBC Two might not offer great academic insight, but may give you a slice of insight into modern America.
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.
For the next few days you can see the second part of Simon Schama’s BBC documentary on Obama.
More topical material on aspects of the UK judiciary this week as the first crown court trial without a jury goes ahead. As far as the government of the Uk is concerned, students could successfully use this as an example illustrating how judges fail to uphold civil liberties. Equally of credit would be a point to show that despite trial without jury justice is still being done.
The question asking about the extent to which judges protect civil liberties resurfaced this week as the European Court in Strasbourg (which is, of course, a non EU body) when judges ruled that the government’s s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was illegal.
Another documentary heads up
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.
Useful US pressure groups example
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.
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.
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.
I wonder if this clip by Tim Harford will provoke debate among students about race, whether in the UK or the USA.
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!read more...»
I’ve just sent this to my upper sixth sets. It may be of some wider use.
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?
Lone Star rising
The best and worst of Texas
The red and the blue
The new face of America
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.
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.
The BBC has launched a new online service that should make tracking politics on film easier.
There’s also a very useful section on the various governing institutions, what powers they have, and so forth.
I also came across a section on the online archives on Mrs Thatcher. Lots of clips and Panorama interviews that I once stored on VHS tapes.
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.
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.read more...»
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!
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.
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.”
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.read more...»
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.
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.
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.
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.read more...»
An energised and passionate President Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. Will it be enough?
Watch this report by Lyndsey Hilsum from Wednesday’s Channel 4 news.
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:read more...»
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!!
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.
After a refreshing summer rest, the Politics blog will be back to daily postings of the latest updates relating to teaching and learning Politics.
First up is the Guardian’s take on a key topic in the Governing the UK papers at AS level, House of Lords reform.read more...»
Details of national A level figures in today’s Telegraph suggest a recent surge of interest in study of Politics.
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.
Constitutional reform was very much a first term project for New Labour, testament to the fact that Tony Blair had inherited much of the reform package from his predecessors as Labour leader. But soon we shall witness one of the changes to the furniture of government that will bring the UK into line with many other liberal democracies, when the highest court in the land is finally divorced from the legislature.
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.
That race relations continues to be America’s most intractable social problem was brought to the surface again this week.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
President Obama’s campaign pledge to widen health coverage to as many of the non insured as possible is stumbling amid partisan wranglingread more...»
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.”
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
So claims one of the leading commentators on US politics in a recent column in Time Magazine.read more...»
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.
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.read more...»
What do a couple of the most powerful men in the world get up to at international summits?read more...»
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.
As if the 44th President didn’t have enough on his plate, he is expected to reset the relationship between the USA and Russia. Rupert Cornwell brings you up to speed.
An interesting piece of Americana in today’s Independent: “The American Dream was fading almost before it began, says a study which shows a quarter of all pilgrims gave up on the New World to return to Britain.
The harsh realities of life in 17th-century Massachusetts, where disease was rife, the climate unforgiving and the economy stagnant for long periods, forced thousands to make the treacherous three-month voyage back across the Atlantic within a few years of arriving.”
Further to an earlier posting, I have details of the report I set for my post AS groups entitled “A political introduction to America”. Participation was voluntary and the quality of entries was high.
Congratulations to Rebecca Salkeld, who in 2,000 words produced an excellent piece that is as good as could be expected from a candidate who has only been studying US Politics for a couple of weeks.
Rebecca’s submission is posted below, and the Amazon vouchers will be winging their way to her email account soon.read more...»
Why some people were concerned back in the autumn that this individual would be a heartbeat away from the presidency.read more...»
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate dropped a bizarre bombshell on the eve of Independence Day by announcing that she was stepping down as Alaksa’s governor.
A twin set of stories from today’s Independent on America’s economic troubles.
This week we have been discussing the implications of the news that Al Franken will become the 60th Senator to vote with the Democrats.read more...»
Today marks one of the most significant points in recent US history, and an event that has largely been overlooked due to the current economic crisis.
There were a number of great features on Obama’s successes and failures in yesterday’s paper. Here are details.read more...»
As part of the LSE’s public lecture series, there is a great even coming up soon on geopolitics and, in particular, the changing role of the USA. Without meaning to prejudice any students university application in the social sciences field, but it would seem to me that participating in events such as these would be the kind of things that would be interpreted as a genuine and active interest in a subject beyond a classroom context. You could say this is purely utilitarian, but, equally, one could consider it as an extra incentive to attend.
For fans of the classic comedy series “The Day Today”, you may think that this is the work of another set of comedians of a similarly twisted disposition.read more...»
I have been holed up in various less than salubrious locations in London this week on examining duties, but light relief has been provided by a number of stories emanating from across the Atlantic.read more...»
I picked up a copy of Justin Webb’s “Have a Nice Day” at the weekend, which lays out a forceful and intense case for what can be considered positives about the modern USA.
I know many blog users will feel that they have left British politics behind with the end of the AS exams, but I would hope that studying the subject has left them with a long term interest in the politics of the country and they have not viewed the course in purely utilitarian terms, i.e. as the path of least resistance towards a decent examination grade. As one of my students said when I informed a class that the A2 course we are studying is purely American, “So we’ve stopped doing British politics just when it was getting interesting!”. Well, the story I’ve come across today is too good to put to one side since it gives the lie to the idea that the office of the Prime Minister has become one where the occupant is somehow all powerful.read more...»
I have come across a useful page on the BBC containing a series of short videos on the challenges facing Obama as President.read more...»
Anyone looking at synoptic questions about the ability of the UK and US political systems to uphold civil liberties may wish to consider this story.read more...»
In an echo of the MPs’ expenses scandal I have been swamped with requests by students about how reports about Obama’s health care plans can be rolled into US politics exam answers.
I’ve put together a list of resources on President Obama. This could be accessed by students or teachers for a host of purposes.read more...»
Donald Dewar, the chief architect of Scottish devolution, is reported to have said that devoution is a process, not an event. News emerging this week serves only to confirm this.read more...»
It is well known that the executive office of the president (EOP or EXOP) is more important and powerful than the Cabinet. What evidence is there of this being the case in the current administration?
A few quick questions to work on for students starting a US Politics courseread more...»
This week our students have been given a general introduction to its people and politics. During discussion I mentioned the use of three strikes laws in some US states. As chance would have it there is a feature on this in this week’s Economist.
Useful for discussion of the use of direct democracy, how laws vary by state due to the federal structure, what such tough law and order measures might say about where we could place American parties on the political spectrum compared to UK parties.
Book review: an entertaining insight into life in America’s heartland
What is the new White House incumbent’s position on states’ rights?
Some hints and tips with approaching the forthcoming US Politics examsread more...»
One of the modern features of American cabinets is its role in reaching out to the people and representing the diversity evident in the USA. Here are some notes on Obama’s.read more...»
Here are details of an idea about getting something interesting and productive done once students come back after the AS exams. If you are one of the lucky institutions that doesn’t welcome back students after AS exams are over, then this could work equally well as a bit of summer homework.read more...»
How helpful of Barack Obama to nominate his first Supreme Court appointee and thereby dominating the US political news agenda at a time when so many students on this of the Atlantic are likely to be revising the topic for their exams.read more...»