September 2011 - American Government

Victim of the Budget Crunch

09-29-2011 9:26 PM

In September, the Shawnee County District Attorney announced that the county would no longer prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic violence cases, at the county level due to a 10 percent budget cut. Topeka City Council, in response, is thinking of repealing a ban on domestic battery in the city limits. Officials argue that they take domestic battery very seriously but also cannot afford to pay for the full process without the county doing their share. In the eyes of city council, it is an issue of federalism.

Discussion Starters:

  • Who is at fault in this situation? Is there a better way of handling the budget shortfall?
  • Do you believe this story teaches us more about federalism or the politics of budgets? Why?

Posted by william.miller

The New Girl on the Street

09-27-2011 8:59 PM

There is a new Sesame Street character and she is packing a powerful message. Lily comes from an impoverished background and her family struggles to maintain adequate levels of food. While the show is well-known for tackling difficult issues, this is a rare instance where a character is introduced specifically due to her battling of a societal problem.

Discussion Starters:

  • Are shows like Sesame Street successful at politically socializing young individuals? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Sesame Street is hoping to do by introducing Lily to the cast?

Posted by william.miller

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Alabama Immigration Laws

09-25-2011 8:29 PM

Alabama recently passed an immigration law deemed to be the strongest in the country. It is overwhelmingly supported by voters and permits the police to check for papers and detain undocumented residents without bail. It also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students. In response, the Justice Department has asked the federal courts to block its implementation. While the law is more strict than any others, proponents argue it has merits and is necessary.

Discussion Starters:

  • Does the Alabama law go too far? Why or why not?
  • Should immigration be a state or national issue? Why?

Posted by william.miller

Muffingate!

09-22-2011 1:47 PM

A report released by the Justice Department on September 20 uncovered a treasure chest of "wasteful or extravagant spending" at law enforcement conferences during the past two administrations. But one item stood out above the others: muffins that were apparently costing $16 each.

While the national media and politicians from both parties took to the airwaves to voice their displeasure and disbelief with the finding, Hilton Hotels came out and clarified the pricing. Yet, the news media damage was already done. 178 articles discussed the expensive muffins. Only 37 corrected it afterwards.

 


Discussion Starters:

  • Why do you believe people were so outraged at the initial story regarding the cost of the muffins?
  • Why do you think so few media outlets chose to correct their first stories with Hilton's explanation?

Posted by william.miller

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The Pay-By-Race Bake Sale

09-20-2011 1:32 PM

The College Republicans at Cal-Berkeley have created a new breed of bake sale to help draw attention to pending legislation that would allow California universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin during the admissions process. During the sale baked goods will be sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, black men for 75 cents and Native American men for 25 cents. All women will get 25 cents off those prices.

Watch the following two videos that cover the story.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you believe the bake sale went too far? Why or why not?
  •  To the larger point, do you believe colleges and universities should factor race, gender, ethnicity and national origin into admission decisions? Why or why not?

Posted by william.miller

A Call to Boycott Campaign Donations

09-18-2011 11:43 PM

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is winning support for his call to withhold political contributions from U.S. lawmakers until they strike a "fair, bipartisan" deal on the country's debt, revenue and spending.There are now over 100 CEOs that are joining with Schultz in an effort to tell incumbent politicians that they need to do more to assure the continued prosperity of our country. The whole idea began in a letter to his employees after returning from a health-related absence. As the idea spread, editorials popped up across the country discussing the idea of boycotting campaign contributions and the potential electoral impact.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Discussion Starters:

  • What impact do you believe Schwartz's boycott could have on electoral politics? Why?
  • How do you believe politicians could help restore Schwartz's faith in the system of government in our nation?

 

Posted by william.miller

The Future of the Electoral College

09-18-2011 1:03 PM

Currently, Maine and Nebraska are the only two states in the union that split their Electoral College votes by congressional district. All other states follow a strict winner-take-all formula.Pennsylvania is currently debating moving toward the ability to split their vote. And they're hoping to do so quickly. While it may seem like a minor shift, consider that Barack Obama won 100% of Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes but only 9/19 Congressional districts. Other states are considering the same. In 2004, Colorado had a similar discussion on the issue. The debate has become quite political with Democrats stating that the plan is based solely on partisan beliefs, not on a desire to see more representative elections.

 

Discussion Starters:

  • Should states split their electroal votes by congressional district? Why or why not?
  • Do you think this plan is fully partisan in nature or driven by a desire to see more representative election results?
  • How would this change impact the Electoral College if undertaken in many states?

Posted by william.miller

The For-Profit College Debate

09-18-2011 12:53 PM

There is little question that for-profit colleges are causing changes in the landscape of higher education. By offering self-paced, convenient study, these schools offer students flexibility that traditional colleges and universities can lack. With a current lawsuit pending from the Department of Justice, the operations of for-profit schools are now under closer watch than ever before. Consider that: "Although for-profit colleges enroll 12 percent of the nation’s college students, they soak up about 25 percent of the federal government’s student-aid budget. Fewer than half the students who enroll in the four-year for-profit schools graduate. Roughly 47 percent of those who were paying back their loans in 2009 defaulted by 2010." These statistics actually are presented by an individual arguing on behalf of for-profit schools.

Discussion Starters:

  • After reading the defense of for-profit universities. do you believe they fill a void in higher education in our country?
  • What arguments are made against for-profit colleges and universities in America? What do you think will be the result of the DOJ lawsuit?

Posted by william.miller

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The Republican Primary Debate Controversy

09-15-2011 2:22 PM

At the Republican Primary Debate on Thursday, Rick Santorum was asked a virtual question by a servicemen regarding what his administration would do regarding the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. While Santorum's response is likely to attract its own share of media attention, the public uproar has focused more on the audience members who booed the solider at the conclusion of his question. When originally taping his question, the soldier had to have his face blurred to protect his anonymity given that DADT was still in effect.

 


 

Discussion Starters:

  • Was the booing of the solider at a Republican debate an appropriate response? Why or why not?
  • In his response, Santorum argues he would reinstate DADT. Should a policy be changed so quickly after a major change or should it always be given time to demonstrate results? Why?

Posted by william.miller

The Execution of Troy Davis

09-13-2011 2:07 PM

On Wednesday night, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah. The case against Davis weakened after his conviction with numerous witnesses recanting their testimony. Further, outside influences—such as Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and FBI Director William Sessions—all argued on Davis’ behalf. In the wake of the execution, many are now questioning if the time is right to repeal the death penalty in the United States. Davis was tried according to the laws of our lands, convicted, and then received every available appeal (along with additional time to prepare through various different delays in his execution). Yet, many American still believe an innocent man was put to death.

Discussion Starters:

  • Should American states reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty in the wake of Troy Davis' execution? Why or why not?
  • What safeguards can we work toward establishing to protect innocent citizens from being executed?

Posted by william.miller

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When Political Scientists...Attack?

09-11-2011 11:21 PM

At the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, John Yoo was invited to speak on presidential power and Abraham Lincoln. Yoo, however, is not the typical political scientist. Yoo served as an assistant attorney general under President Bush and has been shown to write numerous memos explaining why Bush was legally able to potentially torture terrorism suspects. (For the record, the Obama Administration has sided with Yoo in many ways). When Yoo attempted to speak at APSA, he was interrupted by an objector who labeled him a war criminal and urged the crowd to leave in opposition.

The debate--both at the conference--and its aftermath is whether the individual had the right to interrupt Yoo's talk.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you believe the woman in the video had the right to peacefully protest Yoo's talk? Why or why not?
  • Should bureaucrats like Yoo attract such anger from the public? Why or why not?

Posted by william.miller

The Future of the Postal Service

09-08-2011 11:13 PM

Simply put, the United States Postal Service has never been a money maker. Instead, the organization has always seemed to be on the brink of financial ruin. Today, however, financial ruin seems to be coming closer to reality with the agency unable to make required payments (to the tune of $5.5 billion) and more messaging occurring online. Now Congress must decide if it wishes to help bail out the fledgling agency. Competitors exist and many Americans even seem equally comfortable working with companies like UPS and FedEx. These provides do not currently focus on high volume domestic mail though,

With e-mail soaring and less mail being delivered, one can question the need for the post office. Some statistics, however, raise different questions. They say that there are more people receiving mail--but that the volume has dropped. Likewise, there are alternatives to consider that would allegedly help control costs.

Discussion Starters:

  • What are the costs and benefits of potentially shutting down the United States Postal Service?
  • What are alternative ways for the United States Postal Service to increase revenues?

Posted by william.miller

Off to Jail...For Vegetables?

09-06-2011 1:34 PM

With the price of organic good increasing, Julie Bass opted to plant a vegetable garden in the front-yard of her Michigan home. She wanted to share the food with neighbors and have children help her grow and cultivate healthy foods. The city of Oak Park, however, has opted to instead charge her with a misdemeanor that could carry a 93-day jail sentence. Since becoming public knowledge, the story has become an internet sensation. Citizens have directly asked the city why they have such issue with the vegetable garden. The city is pointing to a code that says a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material. The big question is what's "suitable?" The city planner for Oak Park states that, "If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster's dictionary, it will say common. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what's common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers." As such, a vegetable garden is not "suitable."

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Discussion Starters:

  • Should the city be ticketing Ms. Bass for her vegetable garden? Why or why not?
  • Do zoning codes go too far in limiting personal liberties of homeowners?

 

Posted by william.miller

Smoke Free Campuses

09-04-2011 1:04 AM

As classes start across the country, more campuses are enacting 100% smoking bans--including outdoor areas. While the movement has taken significant strides since the first campus went smoke-free shortly after the start of the new century, there is still much debate regarding the legality of these bans. Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights presents a series of press releases from schools that have moved toward being 100% smoke free. And CNN has ran recent stories discussing the efforts of other schools to do the same. However, some campuses have responded that such measures trample student rights. Others believe the bans merely go slightly too far in attempting to protect the health of nonsmokers.

Discussion Starters:

  • If your campus is smoke free, do you believe it should be? Why or why not? If your campus is not smoke free, would you support it moving in that direction, why or why not?
  • How can we strike a balance between the rights of smokers and nonsmokers?

Posted by william.miller

The Waffle House Recovery Index

09-01-2011 1:32 AM

In the wake of disaster, communities face a period of time where they are largely on their own to maintain their safety while awaiting assistance from state, national, and even local entities. With the damage caused recently by Hurricane Irene, many communities were forced to reckon with a lack of power and resources. Yet, Waffle Houses were quick to reopen. While restaurant officials admitted that sales volume plays a role, the stores also were clear to point out that they care about their local communities.

Discussion Starters:

  • Why do you believe Waffle House worked to put together a disaster management protocol for its restaurants? What services are they providing the community?
  • What lessons could government officials learn from Waffle House?

Posted by william.miller