Welcome to American Government

Week 13- Foreign Policy June 2, 2020

We’ve made it to the last week of the semester- one last chapter to read (17) and one more video to watch (50), on one of my very favorite topics, Foreign Policy.  Foreign Policy in the US has been guided since George Washington’s Farewell Address by two themes- isolationism & unilateralism.  Even today, when the US is the world’s preeminent military power (at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars per year), these are the two guiding themes in American Foreign Policy.  I know this sounds contradictory, which is where the framing work of the problem definition stage of policymaking comes into play.  Foreign Policy is also an area where the originally Constitutionally-defined separation of powers is a tough fit for the security and foreign policy challenges of today.  The expressed powers and inherent powers of the Executive Branch are strongest in foreign policy.  Presidents argue that they ought to be considered “The Sole Organ” in foreign policymaking, yet only Congress can declare war.  Which it hasn’t done since 1942, despite the US being involved in many things that look, sound, and cause death like wars.  See if you can find the differences (if there are any) between this declaration and this authorization. There is much, much more to say, and I hope you will say it in your blog posts this week!  

In terms of wrapping up your work for this semester, your very last blog post should be a reflection on your learning and blogging this semester- please use this post in whatever way is best to you.  Please also include your grading self-assessment, which explains what grade you give yourself (out of 20 points) for your semester of blogging so I can submit it in Blackboard.  

Our final exam will be open from midnight June 6 to 11:59pm June 9.  Please schedule a time that you can take it now, and set alarms in your phone so you don’t forget!  It will be the same format and rules as the midterm exam- open-book, multiple choice, unlimited time, and you may retake the exam as much as you like from June 6-9.  To prepare, I recommend reviewing the the Crash Course videos (watch or just listen to a few at a time over the next few days)  and read the chapter summaries (1 page for each assigned chapter- 2-5, 11-13, 7, 9, 16-17)  Don’t try to make sense of the powerpoints without the textbook readings/summaries and videos (the slides are not meant for that and probably don’t make much sense on their own!)  If you are having technical problems, or don’t want to take the exam for any reason, there are plenty of other points to get (you can even skip the final if you’ve done well enough already!).  

I will be updating your self-grades in Blackboard all week, and while the syllabus requests all assignments by June 5, I will accept assignments up to June 9 (as I’ll do my final grading on June 10).  Track your points as you complete assignments, so you know when you have enough.  If you haven’t already completed them, Political Participation and the Final Slide Assignments are pretty quick to accomplish, and worth 10 points each- together, that’s as much as your final exam. 

If you need more time than June 9 for your assignments, that is completely fine- please email me to arrange an INC grade (this means you get an Incomplete for now, and then submit the work that is outstanding over the summer.  This may be a good option if you are slammed with other classes now.  You are all (at the least) living through a global pandemic, an economic downturn, possibly being sick/having sick family members/grieving, and now protests/curfews/violent police responses.  It is beyond impossible, and if you need more time than June 9 and want an INC from me, just email me and it’s fine.  If there is any other way I can be of assistance, please feel free to email me as well.  

If you’re still reading this message, I want to commend you for staying with this class.  I hope you have learned some things about American Government that will be useful to you, as well as some things about how you learn best. I have learned so much from you during this time, and I cannot thank you enough.  Please continue to keep in touch- I am happy to write recommendation letters, provide academic advice, and/or, once we’re all back on campus, reinstitute my office snack policy for current and former students.  (that policy being, I have snacks in my office for students).  

Stay safe and wash your hands,


​Week 12:  Domestic Policy

Welcome to Week 12, where we will discuss public policymaking and domestic policy.   Simply put, public policy is the set of things that government does- legislation, implementation, evaluation, and administration are all part of public policymaking, and politics enters in at every point.  The work is the same as usual this week- read Chapter 16, watch videos #47 and 49, flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  You can begin to think about some wrap-up blog posts too- what have you learned from blogging, or in this class?

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

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

Of course, if you are happy with your points from other assignments already, you don’t need to do the What’s Your Problem assignment- the choice of which assignments to do is completely up to you- just make sure you have done enough points to get the grade you want.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me, or hop into our  last office hours on June 1 from 10-12pm (invitation below).  If you can’t make that time, email me to make an appointment- I’m always happy to talk to students!  If you’re struggling with the coursework, let me know, and we can make a plan that works for you, up to and including setting up an INC for this class this semester, so you can finish the work later in June if you need to.

Finally, try to schedule some time now to prepare for and then take your final exam.  It will be the same format at the midterm exam- openbook, unlimited time, from June 6-June 9.  Block out the time you’ll take it now in your calendar on your phone (and set some alerts  so you don’t forget!).  Stay safe, keep washing your hands, and I’ll see you on the blogs!


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Week 11: Political Parties May 18, 2020

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

I see more work coming in through Blackboard, and I thank you for your continued efforts at this time!  I should have your self-grades entered into Blackboard so you can see officially where your points are at.  If you are behind, that’s okay- work at your own pace and email me with any questions or if I can be of any help.  If you feel too behind to catch up, or you’re sick/taking care of someone sick/just struggling for any reason, email me and we will sort out something.  No one is getting left behind my friends!  We’ve got about 3 more weeks of class, and then our final exam, which will be available from June 6-9.  

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


Week 10: Political Participation- May 10, 2020

Welcome to Week 10, wherein we will discuss political participation.  There are many ways to participate politically, the most obvious and formal of which is voting.  This week, you will read about the evolution of voting in the US, and how the specific decision rules about voting actually shape the outcome of elections.  For example, the single-member districts and First Past the Post/winner take all decision rules in most American elections help guarantee that the US will only have two parties at one time.  You can also run the same election, with the same votes, and depending on whether you have majoritarian, plurality, or proportional decision rules, come out with at least three different equally democratic winners (read Section 9.2 The Two Party System to learn more about this- don’t worry about the extra work, as it’s required for next week anyway!)   The rules and formal structures matter!  We will also be considering the Electoral College (refer back to Section 12.2 if you’d like a refresher). 

Like everything in American Government so far, corona virus presents an interesting challenge.  Voting has historically happened in person, with voters sometimes having to wait in long lines, but what about when gathering in large groups is potentially dangerous?  Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court refused to extend mail voting for its primary election in April; now several voters have fallen ill.   Other states, like New York and California, have made moves to make voting by mail easier for their primary (New York) and geneeral (California) elections in light of the public health crisis.  Oregon has been doing vote-by-mail for many years, as a way to increase voter turnout (America’s voter turnout is the lowest of all of the economically advanced countries). 

If you haven’t already, perhaps this week’s readings will inspire you to participate politically in some way, which you can use for the Political Participation assignment (as a reminder, credit will only be given for socially distant participation- things you can do from home, because your health and safety are the most important thing).  Several students have written with books they’d like to use for the book review project.  If you’re thinking of doing a book review, please email me which book you’re using by the end of this week.  If you’re not doing the book review, make sure you’re working on other projects, to ensure you are learning what you want, while getting the points/grade you want in the class.  

So, please enjoy this week’s readings (Chapter 7– if you’re really pressed for time, try to get through the chapter summary at the end of the chapter) and videos, flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  

April 27, 2020- Week 8:  The Executive Branch

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

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

Enjoy this week’s readings (if you’re really pressed for time, try to get through the chapter summary at the end of the chapter) and videos, flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts. 

Some quick notes about your work for the class: 

Midterm exam:  if you haven’t taken your midterm, or you’d like a chance to retake it, please email me to arrange to have it reopened.  If you see the midterm reopened, but are happy with your grade, then just ignore it.  

What’s Your Problem Assignment: you should see this final assignment, where I ask you to identify a problem, provide evidence of the scope of the problem and its cause, then propose a solution to the problem (a real one, that could be implemented).  Instead of writing a research paper or essay, you’ll put all of this (along with your cited research that supports your arguments) into a letter, addressed to a member of the legislative or executive branch, who can help implement your solution.  There is an outline to help you work through the assignment in the linked assignment sheet.  It’s due anytime before June 5 on Blackboard.

Other Assignments/Adventures Folder:  this is where you’ll find (and submit) your other assignment options.  You absolutely do not have to do all of these, so choose the ones that are most appealing to you.  If you’ve been watching a lot of Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime, you may find the film review a fun project.  The book review is also a great way to read a whole academic book of your choosing (related to your major or your personal interests is fine, as long as you can also relate it to course topics).  If you haven’t done the meme assignment yet, you can do it and submit it either on your blog or as an assignment (it’s worth the same either way).  

Have as great a week as possible, and if you have any questions or I can be of any assistance, please email me.


April 20, 2020  Welcome to Week 7:  The Legislative Branch

Welcome back from Spring Break and Welcome  to Week 7: The Legislative Branch. For the next several weeks, we will be digging deeper into the structures of the three branches of American government, starting with the Framers intended to be first, Congress.  Who is in Congress, how do they get there, and what does Congress do are leading questions for this week’s topics. As with everything we’re covering this semester, there seem to be new questions- what is Congress doing to get the country through this pandemic?  How can Congress function when it is unsafe to gather 435 people in one room and 100 people in another, when they haven’t previously allowed absentee or remote voting? (Congress is working on figuring this out, but as with most things in Congress, it will take time, and is of course, political!)

Enjoy this week’s readings and videos, flip through the slides, and make your two blog posts.  A reminder that you should be making two substantial blog posts (2-3 paragraphs, with links to the sources that support your claims) each week, if you can.  There’s a lot of folks not blogging, and I don’t want to lose anyone, so get back in here (on Blackboard or on the class website, whichever you prefer) and share your thoughts!

I will remind you that all of my announcements and email reminders are to help you stay on track for this class, when you are able to.  This is a global pandemic, and New York is getting hit very hard- health problems, deaths in the family, children who need homeschool help, pressure to work, financial problems from not being able to work- the list of reasons you can’t do your work for this class could go on and on.  So if that applies to you, PLEASE DON’T WORRY.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR PEOPLE THE BEST YOU CAN, AND IGNORE MY EMAILS.  POL 51 will be here for you when you are ready to catch up, and you can use the emails to guide yourself (also feel free to email me for help).  All deadlines are flexible, and all assignments are self-graded.  

To that end, lots of folks didn’t get to complete the open-book midterm this weekend, so  I’ve reopened the midterm for everyone, until Thursday April 20 at 11:59pm.  If you haven’t already, please take it before then.  You are permitted to take the exam as many times as you like, and only the highest grade will be counted, so if you’ve already taken it but want to improve your score, please feel free to do so.  Only you know your life/schedule, so don’t feel any pressure to retake the exam if you already have. The assignments listed in blackboard (and on the syllabus) are there for you to do on your schedule- if you’re up to it, try to make a plan this week for which assignments you plan to do and when (since you don’t have to do all of them).  

I hope you are all as safe and healthy as possible this week, and if there is any way I can be of assistance, please feel free to email me.  

Spring Break Announcement- April 13

A quick note on your midterm, which will open at 12:01am April 17, and close at 11:59pm April 19.  There are 41 questions, worth .5 points each.  This test is open book and you have unlimited time.  I recommend allocating at least 80 minutes (about 2 minutes per question) of quiet time to take the test.  You are allowed to retake the test if you are unhappy with your score, as many times as you like within the exam period.  We’re using the exam as a learning experience, so please feel free to look up the answers in your textbook (it will help you more than randomly googling, I promise!).  And I am trusting you not to share the exam with each other- there is plenty of opportunity for everyone to do well on the points, and learn through taking the test themselves, so please don’t spoil that for each other.

I have tried to make sure there is time during the exam period for all religious observance, but I am not perfect, so please check now to see if you will have time for the exam.  if you know you are celebrating during this time, please try to take the exam during a non-holiday time for you.  If you are unable to do so, please let me know and we’ll work out alternative timing.

Also, and this is very important, if you are sick, or caring for a loved one, or grieving a loss, or are unable to take the exam during the exam period for any other reason, email me, and we will make an alternative arrangement.  Your health and your families are your number one priority, so don’t sacrifice either for this class!  All of the deadlines and due dates are flexible- just email me and we’ll figure it out.

Here is a link to the KCC Emergency Grant page- if you are experiencing financial emergency (as so many New Yorkers are at this time), it is a good resource:  https://www.kbcc.cuny.edu/admission/EmergencyFund.html  Please note, this is different from the CUNY Emergency Fund that is getting going (please check your CUNY email to make sure you get the information on that).  Also, here is the page of email addresses for Single Stop: https://www.kbcc.cuny.edu/singlestop/directory.html​ which has lots of resources for students, including a way to sign up for weekly minimum contact to our campus food pantry if you/your family is in need.

I hope your Spring Break is going as well as possible, and that you and your families are healthy and safe.  If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, please email me.

Announcement April 6- Week 4.5 Continued: Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

So, we’ve got class for a few days this week, and then it’s Spring Break!  Continue with the Civil Liberties and Civil Rights readings and videos, flip through the slides on and try to get 2 blog posts this week (if you didn’t post 4 last week- that’s 2 for Civil Liberties and 2 for Civil Rights).  Remember, if you haven’t posted two blogs every week, you can make them up when you have time.  

You’ll also notice that there are more assignments listed in our blackboard course- if you have time this week or over Spring Break, and want to get ahead on them, go ahead!  All assignments are described in further detail on the Emergency Online Syllabus.  If you don’t have time, that’s okay too- they’re not due until the end of the semester, so you have plenty of time.  

I’ve talked with several of you who are struggling with the reading for various reasons.  Try to get through as much as you can- bare minimum, the chapter summary at the end of each chapter and the Crash Course videos, so you don’t get totally lost, and so your blog posts have some context.  Reading the Chapter summary before you attempt the chapter can help you anyway- the reading will make more sense, and you can skip to the parts that are most important/interesting to you.  

I’ll send more details about your midterm exam next week, but for now, it will be all multiple choice, open-book, with unlimited time.  You will also be able to take the exam as many times as you like from April 17-19.  This approach to exams is consistent with my two original goals for this semester- student learning and student success, and my emergency online goal of student well-being with minimal stress.  

I know there are holidays this week for lots of folks, so if you are celebrating, I hope you have very good ones.  As always, I wish you and your families good health this week, and if you have any questions, feel free to email me.  


Announcement March 29, 2020

Welcome to Week 4.5- this will cover us all the way to the start of Spring Break on April 8!   Over this week and a half, we will begin to dig more deeply into the contentious types of issues that brought some of you to take a class in political science in the first place!  You’ll have two chapters to read, and please make 4 total blog posts on these topics. Civil liberties and civil rights are often confused with each other, so start with your assigned textbook chapters and videos, to make sure you understand what separates as well as unites these two areas.  

As I’ve communicated with several of you individually, I want to reiterate for everyone (and pardon my shouty caps) ALL DEADLINES ARE FLEXIBLE FOR THIS CLASS THIS SEMESTER.  Your health and well-being must be your priority, so if it means things are late for this class, that’s no problem at all.  If you need time because you or a family member falls ill, please take it. If you need time because this is a very stressful time even if you’re not sick, please take it.  If you need time because you have other pressing classes or work, please take it. POL 51 will be waiting for you when you are ready for it, and I’m here to help you understand the material you need to catch up on.  The focus should be on doing your best work for this class, not throwing something together to make a deadline. Take the time you need to take care of yourself and do your best work.  

You won’t have any formal assignments due over Spring Break, but your midterm exam opens the first day back (it will be available from April 17-19, will be open-book, and you may take it as many times as you like during those 3 days), so now is the perfect time to catch up or get ahead (if you’re feeling well).  If you haven’t written two blogs every week, get your missing blogs up now or over break. If you still haven’t submitted the Meme project, do it now or over break. Remember, all of your assignments are self-graded and all due-dates are flexible due to the very unique nature of this emergency-distance-learning-thing we’re doing.  So catch up, or if you’re feeling good, try to get ahead of the reading and any adventures you might want to start on, so you have a cushion for later in the semester.  As a clarification, you do NOT have to do every assignment/adventure listed in the syllabus.  It’s choose-your-own-adventure (with blogging required), so do the things that are most interesting to you, to accumulate the amount of points you want (I hope everyone gets 97 out of the available 140 points, because I very much want everyone in this class to get an A+!)

Enjoy this week’s readings and videos, flip through the slides on civil liberties and civil rights, then write your blogs- you might consider writing about a current civil liberties and civil rights issue/conflict (make sure to link to the articles/sources you’re using as the basis for your posts), or how federal and state responses to corona virus have intersected with civil liberties or civil rights issues.  Of course, your blog topics are completely up to you- but remember to link to whatever sources you refer to in your posts (this is not only good practice so your reader can get further information, it will also keep you honest about making sure you have solid sources for your claims!). I’ll be commenting on your blogs and inputting your self-given grades for your memes into BlackBoard on a rolling basis- it takes a long time, so don’t worry if you don’t see any comments on your posts yet.  Also, please do read the comments if you see them on your posts, as well as on anyone else’s- there’s a lot to learn from each other. I have deeply enjoyed reading the posts I’ve gotten to so far- and I hope you will avail yourself of reading your classmates’ posts- this community of learners is putting out awesome stuff! Have a great week, and if you have any questions, call in to our virtual office hours on Monday from 10am-12am or send me an email. 

Announcement for Week 3: Federalism

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

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

Enjoy this week’s readings and videos, flip through the slides on federalism, then write your blogs- you might consider writing about the costs and benefits of federalism.  Or do some research on felony voting rights or marijuana- these are hotbeds of debate on federalism right now.  Or you may wish to right about how federalism is playing out in real time as states and the federal government respond to the corona virus.  Of course, your blog topics are completely up to you- remember to link to whatever sources you refer to in your posts, and I look forward to reading your writing!  If you have any questions, please email me or call in to our office hour on Monday from 10am-11am.  


Announcement March 19, 2020.

Greetings POL 51 students!  Today is our first official day of distance learning.  The work for this class will be done as explained in this video– each week, you’ll have a chapter to read and some YouTube videos to watch.  Then you”ll write two blogs (on our Commons site or on Blackboard, whichever you prefer).  There are also bigger assignments that you can work on, like the Meme Assignment which is due March 25 as an extra blog post.

Remember, I have office hours on Monday if you want to call or video in, to clarify anything about the course, or just to chat about what’s going on in American Government.  The link is in our blackboard class and is posted on our Commons site.

Handwritten course map, with The Rules Matter written in the middle, and lines out to Constitution, that has lines to Norms, Civil Liberties, and Civil Rights, which also connect back to The Rules Matter. There are also lines from the center to Voting (Why, how, who; Gerrymander; Parties), SCOTUS, Power from the Legislative to the Executive, $$$, Federalism A Real F Word, Power from States to the Fed. In the corner is a circle with YOU? written in it.

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