2014 Syllabus

 Youth of the United States (YOTUS) Seminar – Summer 2014

Theme: “The Nature of Our Republic”


Course Information

Seminars: Tuesdays, 2:00pm-3:30pm

Blog Office Hours: Tuesdays, 1:30pm-2:00pm

Location: UCR – Palm Desert


Course Goals

This course is not only a way for students to be more involved and vocal in politics and policy issues, but to develop skills (analytical reading, writing, and debate skills) that will be instrumental to them in college. Our course is a six-week free Socratic seminar with the aim of helping students become more informed about current events, policy issues, and how government works, while at the same time promoting critical reading, writing, and speaking skills.

The program’s theme will be “The Nature of Our Republic” and will concentrate on teaching students how their local, state, and federal governments work so that they may be more willing to involve themselves in their communities. We will hold 1.5 hour seminars on a weekly basis where we will cover various current policy issues (ranging from local issues in the valley and in the students’ schools all the way to complicated national and foreign policy issues) while explaining why the issues we are discussing are important and the effect that they have on public life.

Throughout this process, we will be directing students to each blog about a specific topic or area of interest that we cover in the course on a website that we have dedicated to the program. They will write several posts expounding their personal thoughts and arguments on the issue they have chosen and develop their ideas throughout the course. At the end of the course, we will select writings from the students that we (the mentors and teachers that manage the course) believe are the most well-developed and researched and publish them in the first of hopefully many editions of pamphlets we hope to produce and distribute from this program.


Who Are We?

Alexander Nabavi-Noori – Founder, lecturer of YOTUS. Alexander attended Palm Desert High School where he was a founding member and President of the PDHS Junior Statesmen of American for 3 years. He has a passion for politics and government and during his time at PDHS, he used this passion to help run the biggest scholarly club on campus where students came together weekly to debate politics, policy, and other ideas. After graduating from PDHS in the top ten of his class, he began studying both Political Science and Economics at the University of California, Los Angeles where he was a writer for the UCLA Undergraduate Law Journal. He is now seeking to help high school students become excited about politics and government while also helping them hone essential skills such as analytical reading, writing, and debate skills that will be essential to them in college.

Matthew Levine – Founder, lecturer of YOTUS. Matthew attended Palm Desert High School and was the founder and first President of the PDHS Junior Statesmen of America. He was a member of PDHS JSA for 3 years and during that time helped create a club that gave students an opportunity to debate their thoughts and ideas on various issues. Matthew is very interested in politics and government and has a special interest for foreign affairs and world politics.


Course Outline


Week 1: Introduction to Politics, Government, and Ideology


– Take the quiz at http://isidewith.com/ and bring results to class. Make sure to answer the additional questions available for each category as well by clicking the “Show more questions” link below each set of questions.


In this week’s seminar, we will be introducing the course and the group blogging assignment. We will also begin by covering the principles of what “politics” means and what characterizes a “government.” We will start small and talk about our grievances at school and in the local community, and link those to the idea of government and what policy and community leaders can do to address those problems. We will then look to some of the Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Voltaire, Hobbes, Rousseau and Montesquieu and what their ideal forms of government looked like. We will also discuss, as a group, our own thoughts of what we think the roles and responsibilities of the government and its citizens are. We will link the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers and our own Founding Fathers with the results that the students got in their iSideWith quiz. We will analyze what these results mean and where they lie on the “political spectrum.”


Week 2: The Constitution: Interpretation and Civil Rights & Liberties 


– “The End of Section 4 and the Future of the Voting Rights Act,” pp. 3-6 and pp. 19-21 (http://betweenthelegallines.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Law-Note.pdf)

– Watch video on Marbury v. Madison (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwciUVLdSPk)


This week’s seminar will focus on one of the most unique parts of our Republic: Our Constitution. We will discuss what features of our constitution make it unique and draw comparisons to other famous constitutions such as the Articles of Confederation, the Magna Carta, and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will also take an in-depth look at the process of interpreting the Constitution and answer questions such as: Who is vested in the power to interpret the Constitution? Why can’t the legislative or executive branches interpret the Constitution (case study: Chief Justice Taft)? We will look to the landmark case D.C. v. Heller as a case study in how the Supreme Court goes about interpreting what the Founders intended in the Constitution. Finally, we will look to the issue of Civil Rights and Liberties and their places in Constitutional jurisprudence. We will specifically look to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act to discuss modern day Equal Protections issues such as gay marriage and voting rights.


Week 3: Campaigns and Elections 


– Watch: Colbert Super PAC video (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/66y7dx/colbert-super-pac-shh—-secret-second-501c4—trevor-potter)

– Washington Post Article breaking down spending in 2012 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/campaign-finance)

– Vox Article on McCutcheon case (http://www.vox.com/2014/4/11/5605538/the-post-mccutcheon-big-money-era-begins)

– “A New Campaign Finance Case — McCutcheon v. FEC” (http://betweenthelegallines.com/2014/03/05/a-new-campaign-finance-case-mccutcheon-v-fec/)


This week will focus on the vast world of campaigns and elections. We will talk extensively on campaign finance issues beginning with an extensive explanation on what exactly the Citizens United case changed in regards to campaign finance law and Super PACS specifically. We will also compare that case to the more recent McCutcheon case which dealt with aggregate contribution limits. We will then take time to track the changes in how campaign finance has worked since the 2000 Presidential Election and specifically note that 2008 was a major shift in previous patterns due to Obama’s decision to turn down public financing. We will end by talking about the effects of different campaign tactics—particularly advertising—on voters, and how these ads, which make up the vast majority of campaign spending, actually may be a greater threat to unbalanced elections due to the disparity between contributions from the rich and the poor than quid pro quo corruption.


Week 4: The Economy and the National Stage


– Vox Individual Mandate Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8n8gYVdThg)

– The Economist on Democracy and China (http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21596796-democracy-was-most-successful-political-idea-20th-century-why-has-it-run-trouble-and-what-can-be-do?frsc=dg%7Ca)

– Chinese “ghost towns” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPILhiTJv7E)

– Netflix: “Hank” and “Inside Job” (watch these at your leisure at some point)

– “How the Economic Machine Works” video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHe0bXAIuk0)


This week will focus on the various theories of economics that have characterized the American economy and their various implementations over the years. We will begin with the debate between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian economics at the founding of the nation. We will then transition the same thoughts from these debates to the ideas of Keynesian and Friedman economics and their applications in the Great Depression through Roosevelt’s New Deal and the more Laissez-Faire attitudes taken by Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. We will then transition from these debates on theory to the economic policies of Reagan (and his trickle-down theory), Clinton (contrasted with Reagan), Bush (and his use of tax cuts for the wealthy and TARP spending after the 2008 financial crisis), and Obama (and his use of the bailout). We will then cover a variety of other major economic topics including: The Federal Reserve, how it works, and the decisions they have made; the National Debt, how it works, and what comprises it; the Affordable Care Act, its effect on individuals and the economy as a whole; the California budget and its transition from large deficit spending to a surplus; and finally the Chinese economy and whether or not it is as valuable as some think.


Week 5: Federalism

Readings: – –


In this week we will be exploring another unique aspect of our Republic: our system of Federalism. We will describe how our system of federalism works and the balance of powers between the states and the federal government. We will cover which issues belong in whose domain (in particular, we will clarify whose jurisdiction marriage law falls under) and other issues that arise because of the split power between state and federal governments such as gerrymandering and election laws. We will also briefly discuss the Commerce Clause which empowers the federal government to manage certain issues. Next, we will cover the Bureaucracy. We will cover various regulatory agencies (such as the IRS, EPA, FCC, and the FDA) and the responsibilities they have as regulators and their importance in the national system because of the “tragedy of the commons.” We will take a useful local example of bureaucracy as well (school districts) to drive home how bureaucracies work in practice.


Week 6: Foreign Affairs: Our Role in the World at Large

Readings: – –


In our final week, we will venture outside of our Republic and look to how the international system works and our place in that system. We will first look to international institution (the UN, NGOs, terror groups, NATO, the IMF, World Bank, etc.) and contrast them with the domestic institutions we talked about in the previous week’s discussions. We will then take a quick look at three very basic theories behind international relations theory: Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism. Finally, we will take a tour of a variety of different foreign policy issues and our stake in them, including: the Iran nuclear crisis and our place in the P5+1; the Russia-Ukraine crisis, its implications on our relationship with Russia and whether or not conflicts such as these indicate the continued future of proxy wars; the Syrian civil war and what position the US should take in the issue; and, finally, the spread of “democracy” abroad and what the vacuum created in the absence of government in countries involved in the Arab Spring tells us about the viability of an international effort to spread “democracy.”


Student Blog Project

The YOTUS Blog is a project that will accompany the 6-week seminar course. The blog will consist of students writing about various topics of their choosing from the selection of themes we cover throughout our course. Students will choose between two and three different issues that they are interested in and would like to write about and create a 400-800 word blog post expounding their knowledge on the issue and their opinion on the issue, be it a policy decision or some other government action. Students will then post their blog posts to the collective group blog that we have set up (http://yotusblog.org). These posts will provide many useful purposes for the students: students will be able to take the broad concepts, theories, and issues that they have learned about and then expound on those issues with their own original analysis and opinions; students will practice writing political journalism, a fast-growing field of journalism led by such publications as FiveThirtyEight and the NYTimes Upshot; students will develop higher level reading, writing, and debate skills through their work; students will have original content that they can use as writing samples for future work as they make their transition from high school to college. At the end of the 6 weeks, a team of course mentors and teacher supervisors will vote on the highest quality blog posts and publish them in what we hope will be the first of many pamphlets that YOTUS will produce and distribute to local leadership as a representation of the opinions of the Coachella Valley youth.


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