Civics 101 Podcast

Episode 57: Commander in Chief

Sep 15, 2017

We investigate one of the President's most important roles: as head of our armed forces.

Episode 56: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Speech

Sep 12, 2017

On today's lesson: We take a broader look at the First Amendment, and then zero in on one of the freedoms it covers: the freedom of speech.  We'll cover the text of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, and why the framers chose to include so many important freedoms in one sentence.  Also, what constitutes 'speech', and how landmark court cases have outlined the importance of context when determining the meaning of our first amendment rights. Our guest is Lata Nott, Executive Director of the Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center. 

Episode 55: The Federal Reserve

Sep 8, 2017

What is the Federal Reserve? How important is it? What tools does the Fed use to manage the U.S economy, and why is it organized differently than other government agencies? Our guest is Louise Sheiner, policy director at the Brookings Institution's Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. 

Episode 54: Security Clearance

Sep 5, 2017

On today's lesson: How do people receive security clearance to see secret, or top secret government material? Who grants it, and how is that clearance revoked in cases of misuse?  Do people with security clearance have unfettered access to secret material, or is classified information compartmentalized? Also, does the President have any restrictions to his security clearance? Today's guest is Juliette Kayyem, national security analyst for CNN and Boston Public Radio, and host of the podcast The Scif

Episode 53: Judges

Sep 1, 2017

On today's lesson: What does it take to become a judge? What does the job entail? Also, what are the schools of thought we hear about so much about in relation to Supreme Court justices: textualism, originalism, and the phrase, "the living constitution"?   Our guide is Behzad Mirhashem, from the University of New Hampshire School of Law. 

Episode 52: State of Emergency

Aug 29, 2017

Natural disasters, civil unrest, widespread epidemics - these are just some of the unpredictable events that can  trigger a President or Governor to declare a special "state of emergency". But what exactly does that mean? Is it symbolic, or logistical?  What emergency powers does this special designation authorize?  Our guide this week is Kim Lane Scheppele, author of Law in a Time of Emergency.

Episode 51: Treason

Aug 25, 2017

For a serious crime, accusations of treason get thrown around a lot - which is why the framers  were very specific about what does and doesn't make you an actual traitor. In fact, treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the U.S. Constitution.  In this episode, University of California Davis law professor Carlton Larson explains the difference between treason and espionage, and why most of those guilty of treason will never be convicted. 

Episode 50: U.S. Voting Systems

Aug 22, 2017

When you cast your ballot in a national election, you’re participating in a specific kind of voting system. But what about the other methods of choosing your candidate and counting your vote? There are systems that approach voting in very different ways… and ways of determining how fair a voting system really is. Producer Hannah McCarthy and Eric Maskin, Harvard Professor of Economics and Nobel Memorial Prize winner, guide us through majorities, pluralities and the ways we make our choices. 

Episode 49: Sanctions

Aug 18, 2017

From full trade embargoes to targeted sanctions and frozen assets, sanctions are an increasingly commonplace tool used in U.S. foreign policy.  Today, a primer on the purpose and design of economic sanctions, from one of the people who helped develop Obama-era sanctions against Russia: Sean Kane, Counsel at Hughes Hubbard and Reed's International Trade Practice. 

Do you have a question about civics? Let us know!

Episode 48: Who Gets to Run For President

Aug 15, 2017

Forty-four people have become President of The United States - all men, and with one exception, all white. Despite that historic profile, and a clause in the constitution, the qualification about who can become President remains fuzzy. Here to explain the formal and informal rules that govern who is allowed to become Commander-in-Chief is Brady Carlson, author of Dead Presidents.

Episode 47: Federal Grand Juries

Aug 11, 2017

The right to a Federal grand jury comes from the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, but what exactly are they, how are jurors chosen and how do they work? We asked Erin Corcoran to join us again to explain this judicial tool. Erin is a former Senate Committee staffer, law professor, and legal consultant.

Have you got a question about civics you want us to answer? Fill out your question in the form below!

Episode 46: Ambassadors

Aug 8, 2017

What happens at a U.S. Embassy?  What does it take to become a diplomat?  And how do you celebrate the 4th of July in Africa? In this episode, we get a taste of how ambassadors represent U.S. interests in foreign countries.  Our guest is Johnnie Carson, a former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Episode 45: Speaker of the House

Aug 4, 2017

The Speaker of the House is second in the presidential line of succession, after the Vice President and ahead of the President pro tempore of the Senate. The person elected to the Speakership wields a fair amount of power not only in the House of Representatives, but also within their party, but what exactly does a Speaker do? And how does someone end up in that position? 53 men and one woman have held the Speaker’s gavel, and each individual has put their unique mark on Congressional history.

Episode 44: Intelligence Agencies

Aug 1, 2017

You've heard of the CIA and NSA... how about the NGA?  That's the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency by the way (formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency) which is just one of the more than a dozen intelligence agencies operating in the United States. So how do all these agencies coordinate? Who is in charge? Today, an intelligent lesson guided by Dr. Amy Zegart, author and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Episode 43: Presidential Pardons

Jul 28, 2017

Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to grant pardons. Does this power have limits? Or did the founders give the the President an untouchable "get-out-of-jail-free" card? Does Congress get a say? And what purpose to pardons serve anyway? Today's guest lecturer is Andrew Rudalevige, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Goverment at Bowdoin College. 

Episode 42: U.S. Territories

Jul 25, 2017

What is a U.S. territory? What is the status of its citizens with regard to the Constitution and U.S. law? Doug Mack, author of The Not-Quite States of America joins us for a lesson on territories.

Episode 41: Obstruction of Justice

Jul 21, 2017

“Obstruction of Justice” has been a term swirling around in the headlines lately, but what does the charge actually mean? And how do you prove it? We’re speaking with Brianne Gorod, Chief Counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center to learn about the many different ways one can be accused of obstructing justice – from witness tampering and retaliation to simple contempt and the many options in-between. 

Episode 40: Church & State

Jul 18, 2017

The separation of church and state is widely considered to be a building block of American democracy,  but what did the founders really have in mind when they wrote "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” into the first amendment? And what's the deal with "one nation under God," and the whole swearing on the bible thing? Backstory's Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh lead today's civics lesson.

Episode 39: Lobbying

Jul 14, 2017

When discussing the political power of special interest groups, you can't help but talk about lobbying.  But what does a lobbyist actually do?  We know they hand over checks (lots of them) but how do they spend the rest of their time? What separates legal lobbying from bribery? And how is the food at all those Washington D.C. fundraising breakfasts anyway? Jimmy Williams, former lobbyist and current host of Decode D.C. spills the beans. 

Episode 38: The 25th Amendment

Jul 11, 2017

When a monarch dies, power stays in the family. But what about a president? It was a tricky question that the founders left mostly to Congress to figure out later. In this episode, the National Constitution Center's Lana Ulrich explains the informal rules that long governed the transition of presidential power, and the 25th Amendment, which currently outlines what should happen if a sitting president dies, resigns, or becomes unable to carry out his duties. #civics101pod

The United States is described as a republic, a federation, and a constitutional democracy. So, what is it? Are those terms interchangeable? And, while we're at it, what's the difference between totalitarianism, despotism, and dictatorship? Political science professor Seth Masket digs into the 'isms, 'cracies, and 'archies for a brief primer on different forms of government. 
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Episode 36: Approval Ratings

Jun 28, 2017

Presidential job approval. It seems we get a weekly report from news organizations on how citizen’s think the President is doing, so we're digging into how it gets calculated and how much that number really matters with Dan Cassino, Associate Professor of Political Science at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Episode 35: Party Whips

Jun 21, 2017

With more than 500 members of Congress, parties have to coordinate members and keep them on the same page. Enter: party whips. But what do they actually do? Several of you asked us to find out. We asked Larry Evans, the Newton Family Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary to help us out.

Episode 34: Separation of Powers

Jun 14, 2017

In this episode we untangle two terms that are closely related, but not the same: Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. The framers envisioned a government structure that would consist of three separate branches, each with their own power, in order to avoid having one person or one branch from having full control of the country. University of Minnesota Law Professor Heidi Kitrosser joins us to explain how the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches are separated and once separated, how they ensure those powers are kept in check.

Episode 33: Declaring War

Jun 7, 2017

War, what is it good for? For a country that’s spent a significant amount of its history engaged in conflict, the United States has only officially declared war 11 times – most recently in WWII. So what about all the other conflicts we’ve entered into as a nation? And how do we decide to set off into battle anyway? To learn more about how the US declares war, we’re speaking with Albin Kowalewski, Historical Publications Specialist for the US House of Representatives. 

Episode 32: Budget Basics

Jun 1, 2017

We've received a LOT of questions about how the budget process works and honestly, we had a lot of our own! It should come as no surprise that the budget process of the United States government is complex and difficult to explain in less than 15 minutes. We decided to cover some of the terminology that you hear when the budget is discussed to give us all a good foundation. Chances are you'll have more questions when you finish listening this week, but hopefully you'll have a better idea of what's supposed to happen.

Episode 31: How a Bill Becomes a Law

May 24, 2017

Even if you slept through most of your Government classes in High School, there's a good chance you have a vague recollection of how a bill becomes a law thanks to Schoolhouse Rock! The series designed to teach kids about grammar, science, math, civics, and more, got its start in the mid 70s. In 1976, "I'm Just a Bill", introduced viewers to the inner workings of government legislation. We decided to give this topic a podcast update and asked award winning Social Studies teacher, Dave Alcox, to take us back to class and explain how a bill becomes a law. 

Episode 30: National Debt & The Deficit

May 17, 2017

The National Debt and The Deficit: two terms that are often used interchangeably, but take on different meanings when it comes to the government. Louise Sheiner is a Policy Director for The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution and she's here to help guide us through the differences between the debt and the deficit, and what the implications of carrying debt are.

If you’d like to try your hand at navigating the fiscal ship, the Brookings Institution has designed a game to “challenge you to put the federal budget on a sustainable course”: The Fiscal Ship

Episode 29: Political Speechwriting

May 10, 2017

We do our best to answer your questions about how American democracy works, but many of you have also told us you like to get the insider's view from people who work, or have worked in government. We asked Sarada Peri, former senior presidential speech writer for Barack Obama, about the art of political speech writing.

Episode 28: Congressional Caucuses

May 5, 2017

We've received multiple questions about Congressional Caucuses, what are they, how are they formed, and what is their purpose? We asked Colleen Shogun, Deputy Director of Outreach at the Library of Congress to help us understand the 800 Congressional Caucuses, from the Authors Caucus to the Civility Caucus.

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