Sunday, October 16, 2011

Citizen Cain

The Godfather is back on top. Could Herman Cain’s candidacy offer Republicans something they can’t refuse?

Herman Cain? Really? If he was Irish would he be Herman McCain?

Believe it or not the latest polls show that Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza executive, is leading in the race for the Republican nomination for President.

The mainstream media and many others on the left seem to be discounting Cain as a serious contender.

Elites, however, do not determine electoral outcomes. Voters do. At the grassroots level Herman Cain appears to resonate with the people. Why?

He is Citizen Cain.

For the time being this is “Herman Cain’s moment.” Perhaps it is his 9-9-9 tax reform plan. His outsider status also gives him an early edge. But Cain’s candidacy has been highly unorthodox. Cain has had difficulty raising money. He has a serious “organizational deficit.” Not to mention that certain state filing deadlines will make it difficult for Cain to get his name on some ballots.

Nevertheless, Herman Cain seems to be winning the race for likeability. The experts, of course, are doubting his electability.

The people will ultimately decide.

Our advice would be to learn from another Citizen Kane. Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane hit the big screen seventy years ago this year. The commemorative Blu-ray disk was just issued. The movie was a critical success but a box office flop. Today the film is consistently considered the best film ever made. It topped AFI’s 100 Best Films list and Roger Ebert has called it “the greatest film of all time.”

The central character in the film, loosely based on the life of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, starts out as an idealistic young newspaper man only to become consumed by a ruthless pursuit of power.

Herman Cain’s current state of idealism runs the risk of being corrupted if he attempts to quickly join the conventional way of doing things inside the Beltway. Ironically candidate Cain might learn from the original William Randolph Hearst, the first Citizen Kane, who once said, “You must keep your mind on the objective, not on the obstacles.”

Citizen Cain?

At a time when the new normal is in vogue, do not be surprised to hear in the near future - “Yes we Cain!”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Roberts' Rule

On Monday October 3 the high priests of our sacred temple of justice arrive to render their services. October 3, 2011 marks the day when “the Nine” Supreme Court Justices return to work in order to provide judgments in the most pressing issues of our time. In our political arena, hardly any issue passes without some sort of judicial decision.

Though we boast, “justice is blind,” Court decisions today all too often appear politically predictable. Greater access to information combined with more and more scrutiny have made our Supreme Court Justices look more like political actors then Platonic guardians of timeless principles.

When John Roberts became Chief Justice, back in 2005, he hoped for a less partisan Court. Unanimous Court decisions continue to be our Court’s most popular. During Roberts’ tenure the Court’s unanimous decisions make up just over 40% of their decisions. Yet today the conservative and liberal blocs continue to be clearly defined. Over 20% of all Court decisions end in a 5 – 4 decision.

Under Roberts' rule the conservatives often find themselves in the majority. According to the SCOTUS blog Stat Pack the conservative Justices clearly vote with the majority more than the others. Justice Kennedy, often the swing vote, sided with the majority 94% of the time last term. The other conservatives; Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Alito, sided with the majority close to 88% of the time.

The leading liberal on the Court, Justice Ginsberg, agreed with Justice Alito only 62% of the time. Contrast that with Chief Justice Roberts who sided with Alito 96% of the time.

This widely perceived Court partisanship might play a role in the upcoming presidential election. Both conservatives and liberals alike have called upon the Supreme Court to address once and for all the constitutionality of Obama Care. There will be other cases of note but none bigger then if the Court rules on the controversial individual health care mandate provision of Obama Care.

Both President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts pledged to rule in a post partisan fashion. As we welcome back the Court on Monday Roberts’ rule has been anything but post partisan. Political circumstances have put Roberts’ rule on a “collision course” with the Obama Administration.

To “the Nine” we say, “Welcome back.” We look forward to your rulings. The conservative to watch this year may not be running for President. The conservative to watch may be Chief Justice John Roberts. 2012 looks to be Obama’s rule versus Roberts’ rule.

For our Court enthusiasts we invite you to join our Supreme Court Fantasy League. Follow the guidelines below.

United States Supreme Court
2011 Fantasy League


1. Research both the Court case and the views of each Supreme Court judge. Predict the Court’s decision by checking which judges will side with the majority.
2. Score 10 points if you are able to predict the Court’s final decision. Give yourself 5 points if you predict the Court’s vote total.
3. Give yourself 2 additional points for each judge you predicted would be in the majority and 1 point for each judge you predicted would be in the minority.
4. Draft one judge (Draft selection will be determined by lottery. Trading will be allowed). Every time that judge is in the majority give yourself 5 points.
5. Person with the most points at the end of the term wins.
6. Keep track by printing out the scorecards linked here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Institutional Change?

Maybe the problem with American democracy is that we have too much democracy.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue (Dem.) seemed to suggest this when she commented that we should consider suspending congressional elections until Congress passes legislation addressing our economic ails.

While she might have been joking, we are not. The American political system suffers from hyper-democracy with too many elections, and we suggest amending the Constitution to reduce the number of these elections.

When looking back on the most prominent institutional change to our governmental system in the last 60 years, we cannot ignore the problems that have arisen with the addition of new elections.

The use of primary elections to nominate party candidates for office has added an entirely new round of elections to our system causing government officials to focus even more on campaigning while distracting them from governing.

Using these primaries to nominate candidates was heralded as a progressive movement toward more democratization as the smoke-filled rooms of party bosses selecting their preferred candidates were replaced by the ballots of ordinary party supporters who express their preference for candidates.

But this institutional change has created a political system even more dominated by a culture that prioritizes campaigning over governing.

As soon as candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives win office, they realize that their next electoral challenge could come in a primary election in as little as 18 months. Time spent crafting legislation or working on bureaucratic oversight often gets spent on raising money and developing plans for the next election battle right around the corner.

The result is a political system that greatly diminishes the time representatives focus on addressing policies without the added distraction of election politics.

But scrapping the primary election process would not be a reasonable solution due to the complexity of getting all 50 states to agree to this change as well as the likelihood that party bosses would again grow dominant.

Our solution to this problem of hyper-democracy is to have fewer elections by lengthening the term of the member of the House of Representatives to 3 years and increasing the presidential term length to 6 years.

The result would allow our representatives more time to govern rather than using their time to politic. Extended terms would also reduce the amount of political gridlock that inevitably occurs when candidates hold out on policy changes to await the results of the next election.

So we agree with Gov. Perdue (even if her suggestion was in jest) that the 2012 elections for the House and President should be suspended as we pass the 28th constitutional amendment to lengthen these terms. Perhaps our system might then be able to bring the focus back to governing rather than politicking.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Six-Day War: How About One Day of Peace?

In June of 1967 465,000 troops, 2,880 tanks and 810 aircraft were aiming their sights on “the extermination of Zionist existence.” Egyptian President Nasser pulled no punches. At the time he simply stated, “Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.” The Iraqi President hoped “to wipe Israel off the map.” Syrian Hafez Assad called it a “battle of annihilation.” Israel’s very existence was in jeopardy. Their immediate fate would be decided in six days.

On June 5, 1967 the state of Israel launched a preemptive strike against those who had made their intentions quite clear. Within six days of fierce combat these enemies backed down in retreat. Israel had defeated the odds and defended itself once again.

Yet a new problem emerged. Israel now occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank from Jordan. Thousands of Palestinian refugees now lived in occupied territories under Israeli sovereignty. Most of this land would be subsequently returned.

The Six-Day War may have been a decisive victory for the state of Israel but conflict in the Middle East was far from over. Not then, not now.

This week in the United Nations the Palestinian remnant is hoping for a favorable vote. They are hoping that the United Nations will come to their rescue. The hope is that the United Nations will recognize the Palestinians as a legal entity.

The United Nations has not been silent in the past. In fact following the Six Day War in 1967 the United Nations responded quite clearly.

“Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East” the United Nations passed Resolution 242 November 22, 1967. The United Nations has always advocated for “ the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

As the United Nations braces for a politically charged and toxic vote this week regarding the Palestinian question it would be appropriate to review Resolution 242.

Resolution 242 called for the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

In other words, to those nation-states or people groups who deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel change your ways. Until Israel can be assured of its own security it is futile for others to call upon the sympathies of the world community.

Yitzshak Rabin coined the name Six-Day War. When asked “why” he suggested it had less to do with the duration of the conflict and more to do with what in his tradition comes on the seventh day. In the Jewish tradition the world was created in six days. On the seventh day there was rest. The seventh day brought peace.

If the United Nations still desires lasting peace in the Middle East it should remember its commitment made in Resolution 242. Many of those belligerents back in 1967, including the Palestinians, have yet to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. The United Nations can not compromise on this point.

As Israel sees its borders again under siege let’s hope the United Nations understands what is at stake. A wrong move this week by the United Nations will take more than six days to remedy. A right move just might bring us closer to one day of peace.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 Questions

Heading to teach a 1st period class on September 11, 2001, we knew that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York but we did not know that the world had changed.

During that 55-minute class period (in which we were discussing how the attack on Pearl Harbor led to the Japanese internment during World War II) we learned that the south tower of the WTC had been struck by another airliner, and then we watched it collapse just as a passing bell indicated that class was dismissed.

For the rest of the day and weeks later, planned classes meandered into trying to answer questions of “How?” and “Why?” in regards to the terrorists’ motives and methods. For months later, we asked the question of “What?” as in “What should the American government do to respond?”

Now, 10 years later, we’d like our readers to tackle another question.

“When you think back on the last 10 years, what do you think will be seen as the most significant response to the 9/11/2001 terror attacks?”

• The creation of the TSA and more rigorous air travel safety standards.

• The creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

• The invasion of Afghanistan.

• The invasion of Iraq.

• The re-election of George W. Bush.

• The election of Barack Obama.

• The passage (3x) of the USA PATRIOT Act.

• The use of our Guantanamo Bay naval base as a long-term detention camp.

• The use of “enhanced interrogation” by the United States to question suspected terrorists.

• The use of “extraordinary rendition” by the United States to question suspected terrorists in countries that allow the torture of prisoners.

• The use of “warrantless wiretaps” to eavesdrop on phone conversations involving suspected terrorists.

• The killing of Osama bin Laden.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Creating a Healthy Democracy

After Reading the selection below complete the following on a separate sheet of paper. Label accordingly.

1.List the eleven (11) “root principles” of democracy, as discussed above, in order from LEAST important to MOST important. Provide your rationale in one solid paragraph.

2.Using the eleven (11) “root principles” of democracy, as discussed above, give EACH a contemporary grade or score. How are each faring today? Explain your grade in a brief sentence.

3.Using the three (3) “overarching themes” from above, provide three (3) specific examples in contemporary political life for each.

The Root Principles of Democracy
By Melvin I. Urofsky

"...that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not vanish from this earth."
-- President Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address, 1863

Speaking at the dedication of a national cemetery at Gettysburg in the midst of a great civil war fought to preserve the United States as a country, President Lincoln gave us in his ringing conclusion perhaps the best-known definition of democracy in American history. By "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," he meant, the essentials of democratic government he so well described are applicable to all nations that aspire to a democratic society.

Democracy is hard, perhaps the most complex and difficult of all forms of government. It is filled with tensions and contradictions, and requires that its members labor diligently to make it work. Democracy is not designed for efficiency, but for accountability; a democratic government may not be able to act as quickly as a dictatorship, but once committed to a course of action it can draw upon deep wellsprings of popular support. Democracy, certainly in its American form, is never a finished product, but is always evolving. The outer forms of government in the United States have altered little in two centuries, but once we look past the surface we discover great changes. Yet, most Americans believe -- and rightly so -- that the basic principles underlying their government derive directly from notions first enunciated by the framers of the Constitution in 1787.

In these papers, we have tried to explicate what some of those principles are, indicating a little of their historical development and explaining why they are important to the workings of government in the United States in particular as well as democracy in general. Because any democracy is an evolving system, the papers also indicate some shortcomings of the U.S. governmental system, and how the nation has tried to address those problems. No one claims that the American model, as successful as it has been for the United States, is the model that all democracies should follow. Each nation must fashion a government out of its own culture and history. But these essays do identify fundamental principles that, in one form or another, must be present in all democracies. The exact manner in which laws are made, for example, can vary widely, but no matter what the forms, they must obey the root principle that the citizenry has to be involved in the process and feel ownership of those laws.

What are these root principles? We have identified 11 that we believe are key to understanding how democracy has evolved and how it operates in the United States.

Constitutionalism: Law-making must take place within certain parameters; there must be approved methods for laws to be made and to be changed, and certain areas -- namely the rights of individuals -- must be off limits to the whims of majority rule. A constitution is a law, but at the same time it is much more than that. It is the organic document of a government, laying out the powers of the different branches as well as the limits on governmental authority. A key feature of constitutionalism is that this basic framework cannot easily be changed because of the wishes of a transient majority. It requires the consent of the governed expressed in a clear and unambiguous manner. In the United States, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times since 1787. The framers made the amendment process difficult but not impossible. Most of the amendments have extended democracy by enlarging individual rights and wiping away differences based on race or gender. None of these amendments were lightly undertaken, and when adopted, all had the support of a great majority of the people.

Democratic Elections: No matter how well designed a government is, it cannot be considered democratic unless the officials who head that government are freely elected by the citizens in a manner perceived to be open and fair to all. The mechanism of an election may vary, but the essentials are the same for all democratic societies: access of all qualified citizens to the ballot, protection of the individual against undue influence in the casting of the ballot, and an open and honest counting of the votes. Because large-scale balloting is always subject to errors and fraud, care must be taken to avoid these as much as possible, so that if there is a problem or a close election -- as happened in the 2000 presidential election in the United States -- the people will understand that despite the difficulty, the results can still be accepted as binding upon them.

Federalism, State and Local Governments: The United States is unique in its federal system of government, in which power and authority are shared and exercised by national, state, and local governments. But if the model is not suited to other nations, there are still lessons to be learned. The further government is from the people, the less effective it is and the less it is trusted. By having local and state governments, Americans can see some of their elected officials up close. They can tie policies and programs directly to the men and women who enacted them and who implement them. In addition, decentralization of authority makes it all that much harder to effect an illegitimate takeover of the government. The principle that democracies ought to decentralize power and responsibility may not matter much in a small and relatively homogeneous country, but it can be an important safeguard in large and heterogeneous nations.

Creation of law: History records that formal laws have been made by mankind for five millennia, but the methods different societies have used to make the rules under which they will live have varied enormously, from edicts by god-kings to majority vote at village meetings. In the United States, law is made at many levels, from local town councils, on up through state legislatures, to the U.S. Congress. But at all these levels, there is a large input from the citizenry, either directly or indirectly. Law-making bodies recognize that they are responsible to their constituents, and if they do not legislate in the people's best interests, they will face defeat at the next election. The key to democratic law-making is not the mechanism or even the forum in which it takes place, but the sense of accountability to the citizenry and the need to recognize the wishes of the people.

An independent judiciary: Alexander Hamilton remarked in The Federalist in 1788-89 that the courts, being without the powers of either sword or purse, would be "the least dangerous branch" of the government. Yet courts can be very powerful in a democracy, and in many ways are the operating arm through which constitutional constraints are interpreted and enforced. In the United States, the courts may declare acts of Congress and of state legislatures invalid because they conflict with the Constitution, and may enjoin presidential actions on similar grounds. The greatest defender of individual rights in the United States has been the court system; this is made possible because most judges have life tenure and can focus on legal issues without the distraction of politics. While not all constitutional courts are the same, there must be a body that has the authority to determine what the Constitution says, and when different branches of government have exceeded their powers.

Powers of the presidency: All modern societies must have a chief executive able to carry out the responsibilities of government, from the simple administration of a program to directing the armed forces to defending the nation in wartime. But a fine line must be drawn between giving the executive sufficient powers to do the job and, at the same time, limiting that authority to prevent a dictatorship. In the United States, the Constitution has drawn clear lines around the powers of the president, and while the office is one of the strongest in the world, its strength derives from consent of the governed and the ability of the occupant of the White House to work well with the other branches of government. Here again, the actual organization of the chief executive's office is not the issue, but rather the constraints imposed upon that office by such principles as "separation of powers." In a democracy, a president must rule through his or her political skills, establishing a framework of cooperation with the legislature and above all with the people. At the same time, the citizenry must feel secure that constitutional constraints ensure that the president or prime minister is always the servant, and not the master, of the people.

Role of a free media: Closely tied to the public's right to know are a free media -- newspapers, radio and television networks -- that can investigate the workings of government and report on them without fear of prosecution. English common law made any criticism of the king (and by extension the entire government) a crime known as seditious libel. The United States eventually did away with this crime, and in its place created a theory of the press that has served democracy well. In a complex state, the individual citizen may not be able to leave work to go watch trials, sit in on legislative debates, or investigate how a government program works. But the press is the surrogate of the citizen, reporting back through print and broadcast media what it has found so that the citizenry can act on that knowledge. In a democracy, the people rely on the press to ferret out corruption, to expose the maladministration of justice or the inefficient and ineffective workings of a government body. No country can be free without a free press, and one sign of any dictatorship is the silencing of the media.

Role of interest groups: In the 18th century, and in fact well into the 19th, law-making represented primarily a dialogue between the voters and their elected representatives in Congress or in state and local governments. Because the population was smaller, governmental programs more limited, and communications simpler, there was no need for citizens to resort to mediating organizations for assistance in making their views known. But, in the 20th century, society grew more complex, and the role of government expanded. Now there are many issues that voters need to speak about, and in order to make their voices heard on specific matters, citizens create lobby groups, groups advocating public and private interests, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to single issues. There has been much internal criticism of this aspect of American democracy, and some people claim that those interests with access to large sums of money can make their voices better heard than those with fewer resources. There is a certain truth to that criticism, but the fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of these groups who help to educate the public and lawmakers about particular matters, and in doing so they help many individual citizens of ordinary means get their views known to their lawmakers in a complex age. With the age of the Internet upon us, the number of voices will increase even more, and these NGOs will help to refine and focus citizen interest in an effective manner.

Public's right to know: Before this century, if people wanted to know how their government was running, generally all they had to do was go down to the town hall or the agora and listen to the debates and discussions. But today we deal with large, complex bureaucracies, statutes and regulations that often run hundreds of pages, and a legislative process that, even while accountable to the people, may still be too murky for most to understand what is happening. In a democracy, government should, as much as possible, be transparent -- that is, its deliberations and decisions should be open to public scrutiny. Clearly, not all government actions should be public, but the citizenry have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent, whether the administration of justice is efficient and effective, and whether their elected representatives are acting responsibly. How this information is made available will vary from government to government, but no democratic government can operate in total secrecy.

Protecting minority rights: If by "democracy" we mean rule by the majority, then one of the great problems in a democracy is how minorities are treated. By "minorities" we do not mean people who voted against the winning party, but rather those who are indelibly different from the majority by reasons of race, religion, or ethnicity. In the United States, the great problem has been that of race; it took a bloody civil war to free black slaves, and then another century before people of color could count on free exercise of their constitutional rights. The problem of racial equality is one that the United States is still wrestling with today. But this is part of the evolutionary nature of democracy, the drive to become more inclusive and to grant to those who are different from the majority not only protection against persecution but the opportunity to participate as full and equal citizens. Examples of nations treating their minorities in a bloody and horrible manner are numerous, and the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews is only the most vivid illustration. But no society can aspire to call itself democratic if it systematically excludes specific groups from the full protection of the laws.

Civilian control of the military: In ancient times, the primary responsibility of a leader was to lead society's military forces either to defend the nation or to conquer others. All too often, the popularity of a successful general led him to seek control of the government through force; he who controlled the military could easily sweep all others aside. In modern times we have seen, far too many times to count, a colonel or general using the power of the army in a coup to overthrow the civilian government. In a democracy, the military must not only be under the actual control of civilian authorities, but it must have a culture that emphasizes the role of soldiers as the servants and not the rulers of society. This is easier to accomplish when there is a citizen army, whose officers come from all sectors of society and after a term of service, return to civilian life. But the principle remains the same: The military must always be subordinate; its job is to protect democracy and not rule.

From these essays we can derive certain overarching themes. First, and most important, is that in a democracy the ultimate source of all authority is the people. The Constitution of the United States announces this boldly in its first words: "We, the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution." All powers in government must come from the people, and must be accepted by them as legitimate. This validation takes place through a variety of means, including the processes of making law as well as free and fair elections.

A second general principle is that there must be a division of powers so that no one part of the government can become so strong as to subvert the will of the people. Although the president is always seen as the most powerful office in American government, the Constitution limits those powers and requires the chief executive to work in harmony with the other branches as well as with the constituency of voters. Although civilian control of the military would seem to place great power in the president's hands, the culture underlying the military in a democratic society works against the misuse of that force. Courts also exist to serve as limitations not only on the executive but on the legislative branch as well. In a democracy, government must be in a balance, and all the different parts must appreciate the wisdom and necessity of that balance.

Third, the rights of individuals and of minorities must be respected, and the majority may not use its power to deprive any person of basic liberties. In a democracy this may often be difficult, especially if there is a diverse population holding diverse views on critical subjects. But once a government deprives one group of rights, then the rights of all the people are in jeopardy.

These themes run throughout the Democracy Papers, and each topic supports all of these overarching principles. The will of the people is ensured through free and fair elections, through the making of law, through a free press examining the workings of government, and through a right to know what the government is doing. It expresses itself through interest groups, even if a bit unevenly. In the United States, the division of powers is mandated by the Constitution, an organic document held in near reverence by the American people. It is also seen in limitations imposed upon the government, by civilian control of the military, and by a federal system. And rights of minorities are ensured through many means, the most important of which is an independent judiciary.

But can these principles be translated into other cultures? There is no simple answer, because the success of any governmental system depends on so many intertwined features. During the colonial period in American history, the imperial government in London could not exert close control of its distant American colonies, and so power and authority devolved onto the local legislatures. This in turn led to a federal system encapsulated in a Constitution that reflects the peculiar historical situation of the people of the United States. The perceived excesses of the British king led to limits on executive authority, while the experience of a citizen militia laid the basis for civilian control of the military.

Individual rights proved harder, but as democracy has evolved in the United States, the rights of the people have expanded from those of white, property-owning men to include men and women of all races, colors, and creeds. Diversity, originally seen as a problem for government, became one of the great strengths of democracy. With so many different peoples, religions and cultures in large democratic nations, any effort to impose one uniform manner of life would have proven disastrous. Instead of fighting diversity, the American people made it a cornerstone of their democratic faith.

Other nations as they experiment with democracy -- and it is always an experiment -- will need to examine how the attributes described in these papers can best be created and sustained in their own culture. There is no one way; to paraphrase the poet Walt Whitman, democracy is a multitude, often contradicting itself. But if we keep our eye on the basic, immutable principles -- that ultimate authority resides in the people, that governmental powers must be limited, and that individual rights must be protected-then there can be many ways in which to achieve those goals.

About the Author:
Melvin I. Urofsky, professor of history and public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the author or editor of more than 40 books. His most recent works are The Warren Court (2001), and with Paul Finkelman, A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States (2nd ed., 2001).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Government 2.0

One of the most salient terms these days is uncertainty. No one seems to be sure of anything anymore. We are told over and over that uncertainty is to blame for our economic malaise. Many have even begun to doubt our political institutions.

In a world run by binary code perhaps a new look at our operating system is in order. The source code for our political life, the U.S. Constitution, appears sound. The United States Constitution, our ultimate coding convention, still operates an executable program.

Still feeling uncertain? Check it out for yourself. Our Constitution still works.

When analyzing computer software engineers tell us the most important factor when writing code is reliability. Reliable source code tells a computer what to do and how to do it time and time again without fail. The U.S. Constitution has been in effect for over 220 years. No governing document can boast that kind of reliability. “We the people” still govern. The enumerated powers given to our government are still effectively calculable. The original programmers would still recognize the government they created. The delicate relationship between our three branches of government continue to check and balance. No one branch exerts excessive power over another. The source code for our political institutions can be counted on.

Software engineers also look at a source code’s usability. The creators of our U.S. Constitution may not have used the most perfect user-centered design paradigm but over time greater and greater accessibility has characterized our government institutions. In contemporary terms our U.S. Constitution is ergonomically suited for all of us to use. Suffrage continues to expand. Access to our government has been made easy. Little else separates us from the power centers of government than our ability to learn how our Constitution works. Take great comfort to know that our Constitution was written not for somebody else or some other time. Our Constitution was written for you and for right now.

A final consideration when assessing any operating system is its maintainability. How easy can its defects be corrected? Can the code meet new requirements? Worse, as David Hilbert’s life work reflected, compilers of source code must take on the Entscheidungsproblem. Can the code be expected to resolve value judgments? The Entscheidungsproblem is a decision problem. Even the best algorithm cannot on its own tell you what the right thing to do is. The same might be said for our Constitution. Our rule of law sets limits but we the people must make the important decisions that govern our times as times change. The maintainability of our operating system, the U.S. Constitution, depends upon an educated citizenry.

From the President on down we are being told that we no longer can make the important political decisions of our time. Sam Rayburn, the longest tenured Speaker of the House in history, once said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn but only a carpenter can build one.” We may no longer have carpenters but in Government 2.0 we certainly have software engineers and they are called citizens.

Our operating system is strong. The U.S. Constitution, put in place over 220 years ago, continues to be both reliable and useable. The only uncertainty is whether or not “We the people” are up for the challenge of its maintainability. “The very success of democracy,” James Madison wrote, “depends upon the knowledge and skills of its citizens.” Government 2.0 will continue to be executable as long as we are willing to run the program the way it was intended . . . with our consent. Certainly you can do that.

Be a part of the program . . . just in time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Politicool Prep

Presidential Primary Primer

Check out what the 2 Teachers are talking about. Today they are discussing Mitt Romney's decision to jump into the presidential race.

Can anybody grow up to be president? Why are Republican candidates spending so much time in Iowa and New Hampshire this summer?

Download the Politicool Prep eBook and find out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This Summer's 3D Blockbuster


Many states not quick on the redraw
Alex Isenstadt, Politico, May 6, 2011


Countless numbers this summer will gather at their local Cineplex to watch more “Pirates,” the results of another “Hangover” and to be mesmerized by another group of “Transformers.” Hardly mentioned is another summer blockbuster in total 3D. Coming to a political theater near you is a decennial district drawing surely bound to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster, literally.

This show of political authority is decennial because it happens every 10 years. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the decennial census is taken to not only count populations but to reapportion our House of Representatives. Their relative population determines each state’s share of representation. As people move and populations change, so does each state’s number of representatives in Congress. Following the release of census numbers this spring, each state was notified of their respective representation in Congress.

The 435 Congressional districts in our House of Representatives are redrawn every 10 years. This animated political restructuring is completed in most states by the their elected legislatures. But don’t think that drawing Congressional districts is done cooperatively in a bipartisan exercise. Partisan redistricting involves more thrilling action-packed drama than is often thought possible in our “do nothing” state houses. The ruling majority party controls all. When districts are drawn to advantage one party or one sitting incumbent it is called gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the rule, not the exception. In all 50 states, state legislatures will spend the summer selecting voters for the 2012 elections. District lines will be drawn to jerry rig elections for years to come. Majority parties will pack districts with voters who will, in turn, produce desired partisan outcomes.

This decennial district drawing has been affirmed by our Supreme Court as politically unavoidable. Gerrymandering is a form of political piracy that has gone on since the beginning of our republic. New congressional districts will be redrawn this summer based upon hung-over results from last November’s midterm elections. New ruling majorities have transformed state houses. With newly elected Republican majorities across America conservatives are bound to draw districts that will make recent midterm victories more permanent.

This summer’s 3D blockbuster is must see theater. There will be a sequel, albeit in 10 years. Our decennial district drawing, unfortunately, often goes unnoticed. Through word-of-mouth, maybe “we the people” might register enough criticism to warrant a different ending next time.


Tell us what you think. Join us in the Lounge below. Use the comment section.

Join us also in the laboratory to learn even more about how reapportionment, redistricting and gerrymandering affects you.


Practice what you have learned HERE

Saturday, April 30, 2011

COURTS - Cram for the Exam

Making COURTS TENable

As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Rule of Law

Justice is Blind
Selective Incorporation
Opinion of the Court
Voting Blocs
Amicus Curiae Brief
Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
Litmus Test

COURTS Placemat

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Check Out USTREAM review from 2010.

Stay tuned for more information regarding the 2011 USTREAM review coming Monday night May 9.

Monday, April 25, 2011

CONGRESS - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Cup and Saucer

Necessary and Proper Clause
Amendment Process
Constituent Service
Legislative Process
Iron Triangle
Commerce Clause


Friday, April 22, 2011

Making American Government TENable now on your TABLET

We are trying to make American government and politics more TENable, more understandable. Now available DOWNLOADABLE eBOOKS for your TABLETS.

Check out the following eBOOKS using any of your tablet devices. Access this website from your iPAD or iPHONE and download the following eBOOKS and begin to Cram for the Exam..

Foundations click here
Federalism click here
Public Opinion click here
Participation click here
Political Parties click here
Campaigns click here
President click here
Congress click here
Interest Groups click here
Courts click here

PRESIDENT - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Bully Pulpit

Energetic President
Electoral Mandate
State of the Union
Revolving Door
Presidential Roles
U.S. v. Nixon (1974)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CAMPAIGNS & ELECTIONS - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?


Motor Voter Bill
Horserace Journalism
Bandwagon Effect
Hard/Soft Money
Cattle Show
Pseudo Events
Bush v. Gore (2000)


Sunday, April 17, 2011

INTEREST GROUPS - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Mother’s Milk of Politics [Money]

Minority Rights
Access Points
Silent Vote
Single Issue Voting
K Street
Approval Ratings
Executive Orders/Agreements
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)


Saturday, April 16, 2011

MAKING GOVERNMENT TENable - 0ne word at a time

Below the ten major themes of American government and politics are discussed one word at a time. Each theme has a primary word followed by ten additional words. Together they make a primer for American government. Together they help to make American government and politics tenable, more understandable.

Making American Government and Politics TENable - Use this TENable Placemat for review

Thursday, April 14, 2011

POLITICAL PARTIES - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Big Tent

Divided Government
Party Machine
2 Party System
Base/Rank & File
Personal following
Party caucuses

Political Party Placemat

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

PARTICIPATION - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?


15,19,26 Amendments
Exit Poll
Voting Rights. Act ‘65
Single-Member Dist.
One-man One-vote

Participation Placemat

Sunday, April 10, 2011

PUBLIC OPINION - Cram for the Exam


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Political Socialization

Bill of Rights
14th Amendment
Equal Protection
3rd Parties
Marginal Districts
Rule of Propinquity

For government and politics review check out and MyCitizenU on You Tube.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

FEDERALISM - Cram for the Exam

Listen to the 2 Teachers talk about the essentials of FEDERALISM


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?


Supremacy Clause
Marble Cake
Electoral College

For government and politics review check out and MyCitizenU on You Tube.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The 2 Teachers are here to CRAM for the EXAM. Review the FOUNDATIONS of American government and politics.


As you begin to CRAM for your EXAM think about the following key terms. Can you identify the significance of these words?

Separation of Powers

Checks and Balances
Reserved Powers/10th
Pluralism vs. Elitism
Popular Sovereignty
Caucus vs. Convention vs. Primary
Federalist 10
Democracy vs. Republic
Formal vs. Informal Power
Judicial Review


Monday, April 4, 2011

How Powerful is our President?

Is the President of the United States the most powerful person in the world or a pitiful helpless giant?

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Check out FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY videos below. When you are finished complete the guides that follow. Enter your comments and questions as you go.

The Transformers: Putting Federal Policy into Action.
Our Bureaucracy Autobots or Decepticons?

Reading Guides
Complete by visiting or the You Tube channel MyCitizenU

View 1. Intro-Federal Bureaucracy
1. When government is asked to do something somebody has to do it. Who is that somebody?
2. List at least two (2) things we expect our government to do.
3. What branch of government empowers the Federal Bureaucracy by giving it duties and providing its budget?
4. What branch of government makes up the Federal Bureaucracy?
5. THINKING ABOUT IT. Why do you suppose written policies and execution of those policies often differ?

View 2. Intro-Federal Bureaucracy an Explanation
1. Describe the makeup of the Federal Bureaucracy. What are its basic characteristics?
2. List the three most prominent Cabinet Departments. Why are these so important?
3. Explain what is meant by Independent Agencies of the Federal Government. List two (2) examples.
4. The Federal government also runs certain corporations. Name one.
5. THINKING ABOUT IT. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being hierarchically organized?

View 3. Intro-Federal Bureaucracy: Specialized Experts
1. List examples of how our Federal Bureaucracy is made up of specialists.
2. Why are inefficiency and mismanagement a constant concern for the Federal Bureaucracy?
3. Who was Max Weber and what metaphor did he use to describe bureaucracies?
4. What characteristics over time have challenged bureaucracies from optimal performance?
5. THINKING ABOUT IT. What prevents the Federal Government from attracting the very best and brightest?

View 4. Intro-Federal Bureaucracy: Checking Their Work
1. Explain the general opinion most Americans have of the Federal bureaucracy.
2. How has the Executive Branch attempted to check and balance the Federal Bureaucracy?
3. How has the Legislative Branch attempted to check and balance the Federal Bureaucracy?
4. How has the Judicial Branch attempted to check and balance the Federal Bureaucracy?
5. THINKING ABOUT IT. Could we live without the Federal Bureaucracy? Why not outsource government services to those who perform those duties in the private sector?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review with the 2 Teachers

Watch the 2 Teachers answer your questions from last year's C-SPAN AP government review program. Join us this year on May 7 on C-SPAN and we will answer YOUR questions. Or you can ask your questions NOW here at CitizenU.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Do you want to make your government tenable? Do you want to understand our politics? Then pin it to win it. For each of the following words we will provide three additional word sets to help define it. Look at the word, pin it to win it.

In all there are 10 Critical Themes - each with one Big Ten word followed by 10 additional words. The themes are: Campaigns/Elections. Political Parties, Courts, Foundations, Federalism, Public Opinion, Participation, Congress, President and Interest Groups

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Time for Show and Tell

It is time for our quadrennial political game of Survivor. Right about now the contestants for this game will begin to line up. Over the next several months “we the people” will begin to cast our votes in earnest to keep or kick off those players who more or less endear themselves to us.

Of course we are talking about the race for the White House. Republican candidates are beginning to line up to compete against our incumbent President, Barack Obama. The Presidential race for 2012 is on. Prerequisite to participate is a certain level of name recognition, access to the best image consultants and vast sums of money.

For those new to this amazing race imagine a grown up game of “show and tell.”

Candidates over the next number of months will amass thousands of frequent miles and hope for an equal number of frequent smiles. Candidates will earn our respect by demonstrating, by showing us, their readiness to be president. The only thing close to the challenge of being president is surviving the challenge of running for president. These candidates will do more than show us, however, they will go to all ends to tell us.

Handlers, those responsible for branding winnable images, know that actions are not enough. “With words we govern men,” Disraeli said. Sound bites and stock speeches will be given in hopes of connecting to the zeitgeist of our time. Obama’s carefully scripted claim to “audacity” and “hope” and “change” carried the “skinny little man with a funny sounding name” all the way to the White House in 2008.

This game of “Show and Tell” is nothing new. We learn about reality through both visualization and story telling. We always have. Greek philosophers wrote extensively about the human need to both see and hear the truth. Showing is the Greek word “mimesis” and the telling is the Greek word “diegesis.”

As we experience the commencement of another presidential election season, let us hope the candidates have learned from past experiences. Hopefully their talents will be more “mimesis” than mere “diegesis.” Show us rather than tell us. Words are cheap.

Walter Benjamin’s classic text, “On the Mimetic Faculty” (1933), can teach us all something:

“Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.”

To win decisively a presidential candidate must become “one of us.” From our President we do not want more political platitudes. Promising “change” but settling for old routines is like bouncing a check. Do not make promises you cannot keep.

Rather, demonstrate on the campaign trail those qualities and characteristics we know all presidents require. Let us begin with intelligence, integrity and wisdom. These are the qualities we expect from ourselves.

Still feeling a little burned by recent elections, maybe “show and tell” is asking too much this time around. As for me, I would be happy with a game of “show.”

Monday, February 28, 2011

Totem Polls

The Oscar for best picture has become over the years our collective totem pole. Year after year these cinematic creations carve new identities into our American psyche.

Last year The Hurt Locker won for Best Picture. It began with the notion that war is like an addiction. Kathryn Bigelow who directed began the film by quoting Times war correspondent Chris Hedges, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” For a generation of Baby Boomers who fought the Cold War, we still await the promised peace dividend. War is no longer a variable it is a constant. We all seem to be trapped in our own “hurt locker.”

Last night the 83rd Academy Awards honored a new collection of films. This year’s nominees for Best Picture again seemed to resonate with our current national condition.

The Social Network, based on the rise of Facebook, is about more than founder Mark Zuckerberg. This home to over 500 million users has helped to spur revolutions across the Middle East. Social networking is fast changing the way we organize our lives.

Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky is a haunting film. Like his earlier film The Wrestler, Aronofsky takes on the performing arts. What you see is not what you get. Appearances are deceiving. These plot lines are not unlike Nassim Taleb’s best selling book The Black Swan. Taleb has written extensively about randomness. As much as we want to control the circumstances of our life using empirical analysis, certainty is allusive. No single word best encapsulates our times like the word uncertainty.

The remaining Best Picture nominees all have something to say about our current condition - The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, and Inception.

Of these Inception stands out.

Inception is a film about a team of experts, led by Leonardo Dicaprio, who infiltrate dreams in order to alter realities. Often traveling through layers of dreams the participants use personalized objects or totems to determine if they are awake or still asleep. Living in one’s dreams often provides a better place than when faced with stark reality.

The Dicaprio character is case in point. Throughout the film his subconscious memories obstruct his mission. Nevertheless he cannot seem to avoid being haunted by his memories that are alive and well in his dreams. Throughout the film Dicaprio spins a top, his totem, to determine whether or not he is dreaming.

If the top stops spinning he knows he is awake and the dreams are over.

Artist Grant Wood had something to say about dreaming. “Almost all of us have some dream power in our childhood but without encouragement it leaves us and then we become bored and tired and ordinary...We are carefully coached in the most modern and efficient ways of making our bodies comfortable and we become so busy about getting ourselves all nicely placed that we are apt to forget the dream spirit that is born in all of us.”

Pollsters tell us today that so many of our dreams have vanished. Americans no longer look to the future with bright eyes. Austerity rules. The true test for our leaders is can they keep our tops spinning?

Still waiting for answers. Still waiting our king's speech.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rahm: Yeltsin or Putin?

Our students recently asked what difference it makes if Rahm Emanuel wins the Chicago mayoral election in tomorrow’s first round of voting or in April’s second round.

We tried to answer with a rhetorical question invoking Russian politics: Does Emanuel want to be known as Yeltsin or Putin?

On the surface, the politics of Russia and Chicago would seem to have little in common beyond the importance of efficient snow removal. But the electoral system for Chicago’s mayor holds the distinction as being the same type of system used to elect Russian presidents and many other international chief executives.

Voters in France and Iran also elect their presidents through this two round, non-partisan system where multiple candidates from a variety of political factions battle in the first round. Any candidate who wins a majority (50% plus 1 vote) in this first round automatically captures the executive title. But if no candidate secures an electoral majority in Round 1, the top two vote getters square off in a second round of balloting. The winner of this final match up is guaranteed a majority of the vote.

Some have suggested this type of electoral system as the best replacement for our Electoral College. Instead of indirectly electing our president through the electors of the 50 states, citizens could directly elect a Presidential winner with a majority of the voters’ support. Swing states would become a forgotten buzzword as candidates courted the votes from the nation’s population centers, like Chicagoland, that are so often ignored by presidential election strategists.

French presidential elections characterize how this system was intended to work, where more than a dozen presidential candidates typically enter the first round of balloting. Voter turnout averages an astounding 80% in this method as French citizens from all ideologies can clearly identify with at least one of the candidates from across the political spectrum.

Round 2 in France functions the same way James Madison depicted a large republic working when he wrote Federalist 10. The top two contenders must campaign beyond the base factions that supported them in Round 1 in order to gain the majority of support. This helps build a political culture where elections become a way to galvanize connections between otherwise diverse groups.

In reality, Chicago’s mayoral elections resemble Russia and Iran much more than the ideals of France.

Since the introduction of the non-partisan election in 1999, Richard Daley dominated each of his three campaigns in this system and never experienced a second round of mayoral balloting. Similarly, Iranian presidential elections have never gone to the second round, and Russian presidential candidates have only battled onto a second round once.

1996 was the only Russian election that extended beyond the first round. A weakened Boris Yeltsin barely survived this electoral challenge from the resurgent Communist Party. In order to secure the win, Yeltsin had to rely heavily on influence and favors from the new class of oligarchs. Financial turmoil and subservience to these oligarchs ended up characterizing the last of Yeltsin’s years in office.

Vladimir Putin followed these years of weakness with political muscle made possible by his electoral superiority in the first round of elections. This perception of electoral invulnerability helped Putin to quickly centralize political power and stabilize Russia’s economic chaos. Even out of the presidential office, Putin’s political influence runs deep today.

In the politics of perception, Rahm Emanuel knows that winning a plurality of tomorrow’s votes without securing the outright majority will be perceived of as weakness. And when the image of electoral dominance can lead to the reality of political strength, Emanuel surely wants to be remembered as winning first round elections like Putin rather than stumbling through the second round like Yeltsin.

Learn about Political Socialization

Check out this short video about political socialization

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

See Mo’ Green

The 53rd Grammy Awards, broadcast last Sunday on CBS, featured more than the best and brightest musical artists of our time. Today’s performers mean to do more than entertain. Sounds like they want to teach.

More and more musicians seem to be tapping into our present zeitgeist. Music and lyrics now heard across all musical platforms transcend the visceral. Pop has gone cerebral.

So da rappers have gone political on us?

Just look at this year’s Grammy winners and decide for yourself. President Obama could not have asked for a better opening act to his budget proposal this week.

Lady Antebellum, who brought both shock and awe to the Grammy’s this year, won big for their song, “Need you now.” Equally showing shock and awe the president this week proposed his $3.7 trillion budget for 2012. The leadership from both political parties rained down criticism. Obama is going to need, at the very least, the help from his own Democratic Party.

President George W. Bush shocked us in 2002 by proposing a $2 trillion dollar budget. The trillion-dollar marker was first crossed back in 1967. It would not take another thirty years to add another trillion. Obama crossed into $3 trillion just six years later. Combined with historically high deficits today’s outrageous budget numbers make Lady Gaga look down right dull.

President Obama and his budget team are attempting to pass off these record deficits and debt by assuring us we were just “Born This Way.”

Strangely, the Republicans seem to be channeling Eminem. His most recent effort “Recovery” was the top selling album of 2010. The same could be said of the Republican Party. Aided by the Tea Party, Republicans have recovered their majority of the House of Representatives.

With their newfound confidence Republicans are “Not Afraid” to take a stand against the president and his “monsters.” Resurrecting memories from the Carter administration, House Speaker Boehner can be heard crying out, “Holla if you feel that you’ve been down the same road.”

The Grammy artist who seems to have touched closest to our nerves, however, is singer-songwriter Cee Lo Green. Some might remember him as vocalist of Gnarls Barkley and the smash hit “Crazy.” We were singing that song just as the unknown Barack Obama was deciding to run for president four years ago.

Today Cee Lo Green is singing a different tune.

He is no longer crazy. He is angry. The new normal is unacceptable.

His monster hit can be song in many different ways. Even Gwyneth Paltrow covered it during an episode of “Glee.” Cee Lo Green’s “Lady Killer” lyrics reflect the angst of our age.

President Obama is singing about mo’ green. You can understand if our first reaction is “Forget you.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Prefix - ation

The prefix “super” is derived from the Latin for “above” and “beyond.” We Americans love anything that is super. We love to use the prefix “super.” It might be a collective fixation.

This weekend we loved the Super Bowl. Record numbers watched and enjoyed two of our most storied NFL franchises play in our biggest game.. The game lived up to its hype.

This weekend we also gave tribute to our Super President. Ronald Reagan would have been 100 on Sunday. Both conservatives and liberals paid homage to the memory of our cheerleading president. We shared super memories.

But there is more.

We love our Super Heroes, Super Smash Brothers, Super-sized meals and our Super Mario.

We have supermarkets with supervisors using supercomputers. We superimpose, supersede and superscript. Things are superficial, superfine and supercritical.

The prefix “super” is superior.

Obama hoped for super results as president. Barack Obama ran a super campaign. Yet his presidency has been dominated by super problems. He certainly had made plans for a long legacy of superlatives. Obama had counted on the prefix “super” to best characterize his transformational presidency.

The super problems, however, have made this superpower worry more about leaking supertankers. Our superintendent-in-chief rose to power in supersonic ways but now all too often appears on the world stage as a supernumerary.

Four years ago this month Obama announced his candidacy for president on the steps where Lincoln stood. On a super cold day a super cool narrative began.

Soon Obama will be asked to announce that he is running again. Shortly Obama will have to make if official that he is seeking a second term. To be successful this time the prefix “super” might sound superfluous.

If President Obama expects to go above and beyond this time he best start thinking about using the right suffix. If that suffix does not contain jobs no prefix will be noticed anyway.