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Our team of U.S. election experts: Goldfield, Thoet, McCuan, Johnson, Stavroudis, Riley, Sickinger, Garrett.

Have you been wondering recently what demographic will decide the election (hint: keep an eye on single women voters in swing state suburbs on Election Day), what the 2016 trends in political cartoons are, or how social media have become such an important aspect of political campaigning? Then look no farther, because Teach About US is featuring a distinguished team of experts on the 2016 election – and they are ready to answer your questions!

»Do you or your class have a question that’s too tricky for Google or too personal for Wikipedia?«

All of our experts happily agreed to get in touch with you, our project participants, and answer your questions on this upcoming election. Do you or your class have a question that’s too tricky for Google or too personal for Wikipedia? Then look up our experts in the Virtual Town Hall and post your questions directly under the profile of your expert of choice. The Teach About US team will bundle your questions and forward them to our experts. Their answers will be posted here on our blog.

And here they are…

  

Amanda ThoetAmanda Thoet graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in May 2015 where she studied English, German and Communication Arts and Sciences. After working in the Public Affairs sector as an intern at the U.S Embassy in Berlin, she will start a Master’s program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where she will be concentrating in Diplomatic Studies this fall. Amanda will serve as an expert about the state of Pennsylvania and presidential elections in general. Read more about Amanda Thoet here.

  

As a U.S. native Christianna Stavroudis  received a B.A. in Applied Linguistics from the Christianna StavroudisUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County and an M.Sc. in Clinical Linguistics from the University of Groningen / University of Eastern Finland / University of Potsdam. She teaches a variety of courses at Bonn University’s English and American Studies Department and frequently lectures in "Green Ink: German and American Political Cartoons on the Environment." Therefore, her special expertise rests in political cartoons on the election in Germany and the U.S., Maryland, and Texas. More information about Ms. Stavroudis will be provided here.

  

Christina SickingerChristina Sickinger is pursuing majors in Economics and German Studies and a certificate in International Relations. This summer, she interned in Florida with Congresswoman Gwen Graham as well as with her county government, and she enjoyed the opportunity to learn about both federal and local government.  She will serve as an expert on the state of Florida. Read more in her profile here.

  

Christer GarrettAs a Professor for American History and Culture, Professor Crister Garrett is currently working on a research project exploring the politics of transatlantic environmental governance. His special expertise focuses on U.S. politics and society in general, understanding cultural difference in an international context, and electoral affairs in California and Michigan. Click here for more information about Professor Garrett.

  

David GoldfieldDavid Goldfield, PhD, is a native of Memphis, grew up in Brooklyn and attended the University of Maryland. He is the Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author/editor of numerous books and textbooks, serves as Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, and is former President of the Southern Historical Association. Check his profile here.

  

Dr. David McCuanDr. David McCuan is a Professor of American Politics, International Relations, and Public Administration at Sonoma State University. His expertise rests in two broad areas – American politics and International Relations. He does research in two areas – state and local elections; and the study of terrorism. His teaching responsibilities include courses in both international and national politics, international security and terrorism, state and local politics, campaigns and elections, and political behavior. Read more about Dr. David McCuan here.

  

Dr. Jason JohnsonDr. Jason Johnson is Associate Professor of Political Science and Scholar in Residence at Hiram College in Northeast Ohio. He is the author the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell, which has been featured in Campaigns and Elections magazine and on National Public Radio. Dr. Johnson frequently appears on U.S. television and radio as a political analyst as well as public speaker, offering his expertise on political campaigning, social and digital media. For information about Dr. Johnson click here.

  

Matt RileyLast but not least, Matt Riley currently studies Public Policy, German and Policy Journalism at Duke University in North Carolina. At Duke, Matt writes as a journalist and investigative reporter at The Chronicle, the student paper, and has covered political stories ranging from Virginia congressional campaigns, North Carolina state politics, and a profile of lead U.S. negotiator in the Iran nuclear negotiations. Thus, his expertise is the presidential election with the focus on the U.S. states Virginia and North Carolina. Check his profile here.

   

Again, we appreciate the willingness of our 8 experts to work with us in this project and answer all of your questions about the presidential election system.

AND now it’s your turn… Please don’t hesitate to address any of the U.S. election experts and post your questions directly in the database. They will be forwarded to the experts and we will post their answers in the blog.

So stay tuned and grasp at the unique chance of getting your questions answered by U.S. election experts. 

  


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Elections Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts

 

 

Dr. Jason Johnson

Earlier this year, our expert on political campaigning and social media, Dr. Jason Johnson, travelled to Germany for a speaker tour that included discussions with high school students and teachers in Hamburg and Berlin. We were lucky to ask him about his take on the evolving election campaign.

One thing is already clear: The presidential election 2016 will be of historical significance. Not only did the campaign reveal a split between some party representatives and Trump supporters within the Republican party, but also Hillary Clinton had a hard time to overcome Bernie Sanders‘ criticism of the electoral system and his grassroots campaign.

Jason Johnson summarized the presidential election campaign for us like this:

 

Social media have played a major role throughout the campaign thus far. But this is in itself is not a novelty in 2016.  Digital Campaigning has been an important part of the U.S. elections since 1996. It was in the mid and late 1990s that candidates running for the highest political office in the United States began integrating campaign websites into their campaigns. Today social media are a major component of those campaigns and their success. Not surprisingly, Barack Obama‘s first presidential bid in 2008 famously relied on Facebook, his re-election campaign made heavy use of Twitter. In this year’s election, these networks count as important instruments to mobilize voters and volunteers on both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans. And other social networks like Snapchat are about to follow with growing importance.

U.S. political analyst Jason Johnson told us more about the evolving role of social media for the November election:  

 

Jason Johnson is one of our experts on U.S. elections and politics. Until the November elections, we will be forwarding student questions to our experts and post their answers in this blog. To learn more about this, visit the Virtual Town Hall in the U.S. Embassy School Election Project 2016.  


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Elections Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts

 

 

David GoldfieldElections and presidential politics sometimes turn out to be difficult matter. Luckily, at Teach About US we have a team of distinguished experts on the 2016 election who can help us solve (most) of these tough questions. This time David Goldfield, Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, took the time to address two issues that have been raised by our participants recently.

 

What happens when a candidate suddenly can't run for President anymore?

The first question comes from Susanne Aldoais, a teacher from Erlangen who is participating in the election project with her 12th-grade English class at Emmy Noether Gymnasium. She asks:

“What would happen if one the presidential candidates suddenly couldn’t run for president anymore? Would he or she be automatically replaced by his or her running mate? Would the results of the primaries / caucuses still play a role? Who decides in this case?”

Here is Dr. Goldfield’s take on this:

“Dear Susanne, there is no law or constitutional provision governing the replacement of a presidential candidate who dies prior to the general election.  In that case, it's strictly up to the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee to name a replacement.  There are no additional primaries or any other mechanism for the voters to weigh in on the decision.  Three likely scenarios would be to elevate the Vice Presidential candidate to the top slot (but then the party would have to name a new Vice Presidential candidate); the party could go to the voters' second choice in the primaries (Sanders for the Democrats; Cruz for the Republicans); or, the party could select a prominent officeholder who did not participate in the primaries but who carries significant respect and influence.  In the Democrats' case this would be Vice President Joe Biden.  I'm not sure whom the Republicans would turn to in this third scenario.”

 

Why do voters split their votes?

We received a second question from Simon Schilde. Simon’s 11th-grade course at Max-Planck-Schule in Gelsenkirchen adopted the state of Massachusetts and he and his classmates were wondering about this aspect:

“My question is why Massachusetts tends to vote for Democratic presidential candidates, despite voting for Republican governors?”

Again, David Goldfield:

“Dear Simon, if you look at some of the recent Republican governors, like Charlie Baker, Mitt Romney, and William Weld, you will see that they fall into the category of "moderate" Republicans. In the case of Baker, his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, ran a horrible campaign in 2014. The Republican Party in Massachusetts is very much different from the rest of the Republican Party outside New England. Equally, if not more important, the state's governors are typically elected in "off" years—that is, years when there is no presidential election.  Baker was elected in 2014, for example. Off-year elections tend to favor Republicans because the turnout among minorities and young people is generally lower than during the presidential election years.”

This phenomenon of divergent majorities in presidential vs. congressional elections in some states, like Massachusetts, is often referred to as ‘split-ticket voting’. There are various reasons for that. First off, it is the year 2016 and despite the current campaign rhetoric, one thing all pollsters can easily agree upon is that both major presidential candidates have historically low approval ratings. It isn't diffucult to imagine that some Republican-leaning voters would not give Mr. Trump their vote in November but still support the Republican candidates for Congress. The Democratic party might be facing a similar challenge, albeit to a lesser degree. As the New York Times recently described, Charles Kress (62) of York, Pennsylvania, is one such example:

“Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, has never met Charles Kress, but he desperately needs him. Mr. Kress, 62, will vote for a Democrat this November for the White House, he said, no matter what. He is also planning to vote for Mr. Toomey’s re-election. 'Sometimes you have to keep in office the ones who make the deals,' Mr. Kress said as he watered the flowers in front of York’s Unitarian church.”

(Read the article here.)

Split-ticket voting could possibly play a role in this year’s presidential election, but as the Washington Post reports, it has generally declined in recent election cycles. One major reason: “As the country gets more polarized, it would make sense that people would be less likely to split their votes between parties.”

(Read the article here.)

Thank you again to Simon and Susanne for your questions. And now it’s YOUR turn! Don’t hesitate to address any of the U.S. election experts and post your questions directly in the expert database.

They will be forwarded to the experts and we will post their answers in the blog

So stay tuned and grasp at the unique chance of getting your questions answered by U.S. election experts.

 


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Elections Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts
 

Shari WilsonEducation for sustainable development one of the core goals of Going Green, but what does this mean? And what factors are involved in the process? During the 2014 “Going Green” project, our expert Shari Wilson gave us an overview of what environmental education can be.Shari is an ecologist and environmental educator as well as owner and principal of Project Central, LLC, a consulting firm that works with schools, neighborhood organizations, government agencies, and others on projects related to education, the environment, and healthy communities. Here's our interview with her:

  

  

Apart from the interview at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Going Green participants had further questions for Shari Wilson: 

  

What do you think is one of the best ways to start sustainability projects at the local level? 

Shari Wilson:

In my experience, the best way to begin is to start small and involve as many people as possible. Persistence is also important. For example, if you see that a park has a lot of litter in it, a campaign to get people to throw away their trash instead of leaving it on the ground might be a good idea. I worked with a school in Armenia on this sort of project. The students did a one-day event at the park where they handed out fliers about littering. Many people said they agreed with the students, that littering was not a good thing to do. The students were disappointed, however, when they found many of their fliers on the ground, and no real improvement in littering in the weeks after their event. After they talked with their city government and asked for more trash and recycling containers, and signs reminding people not to litter, they noticed an improvement. The students also returned to the park frequently and talked to people about littering. When people saw that the students cared about the park enough to keep coming back, their attitudes began to change.

With sustainability projects, we are essentially asking people to change their behavior, often for reasons that are not easily seen and for results that may be abstract. All of the trash on the ground goes somewhere, right? Either someone picks it up or somehow it goes away. What difference does it make whether my trash goes into the water system or is properly recycled or taken to a landfill? Those are questions you have to keep trying to answer, while making it easy for people to change their behavior by locating plenty of trash cans and recycling container nearby, in our littering example."

  

How did your 14 years of NGO experience change your ideas about community or grassroots initiatives? Did your experience re-shape the way you view grassroots organizing?

Again, Shari Wilson: 

"Probably the biggest lesson I learned was that partnerships make the difference between successful projects and unsuccessful ones. Developing relationships and listening to what others think takes time and patience. Finding agreement on how to approach a problem is not always easy, but it is important to get as many people and organizations involved as possible, even those that are not in agreement with how you think a project should proceed.

One example I recall is when I was leading an effort to develop a park in my community. The land was owned by the city, but there were many competing views regarding how the property should be used. I had heard a lot of rumors about how difficult the park opponents were to work with, but they were keeping the project from moving forward so I had to meet with them. I learned that some of them had concerns about security and others wanted the area used for a boat ramp so they could fish on the river. Once they were invited to join the group, we were able to work out their issues and accommodate everyone. To alleviate the security concerns, park rules do not allow camping overnight. And we were able to find room for a boat ramp that now receives a tremendous amount of use."

   

What is one of the best examples you have seen of sustainability projects in the schools?

Shari Wilson's answer to this:

"Schools that have the most successful projects are those where sustainability is part of the school culture, meaning that following sustainable practices is part of the normal way the school always works. I have often seen successful recycling or gardening projects begin at schools, only to disappear when an enthusiastic teacher or parent leaves or loses interest.


Starside Elementary School in De Soto, Kansas is a great example of a school that started small, with a recycling program, and has now incorporated sustainability into its character education program. Starside has a school culture that promotes consideration of the environment and provides students with opportunities to learn how to take care of plants, animals, and the earth. Besides recycling, Starside now has lunchroom waste recycling, compostable lunch trays, landscape composting, worm composting, a small solar turbine, gardens (both vegetable and wildlife habitat), and school policies stating that these programs will continue and are part of the school’s curriculum. The policies ensure that the programs will outlive the administrators and teachers that began them."

http://usd232.org/education/school/school.php?sectiondetailid=814&

   

You mentioned in your interview with 'Going Green' that you encourage students to 'dig deeper' and be more skeptical. Where and how does that begin?

Shari Wilson:

“Anyone who has been around young children knows they are full of questions and curiosity about the world around them. Somehow that ability to question and desire to learn more disappears once they progress in school. The United States is returning to a more inquiry-based method of teaching through the implementation of new education standards. This means students will direct more of their learning, and teachers will serve more as facilitators than lecturers and experts. This is a big change for most teachers and all students, but it will provide in-depth learning that is more relevant for the students. The way most teachers begin the process is to ask an “essential question” that the students will answer. The answer will require research by the students, and often they will come up with different answers to the same question.”

Our former blogger, Alex Magaard, asked:

My younger sister is interested in potentially starting a community garden in our hometown of Wayzata, Minnesota. Do you have any advice for her with where/how to implement her project?

Shari Wilson responded:

“That’s wonderful news! Gardens are a great way to get different community members together, and to teach younger people how to grow their own vegetables. The skills you learn through gardening are like those you learn to ride a bike: once you’ve done it, you always remember how, no matter how much time passes between experiences. Gardening, like bike riding, is empowering; you can grow a vegetable plant anywhere, as long as you have a pot and some sun.

I see from the City of Wayzata’s website that they already have a Gardens Initiative, where volunteers help take care of the city’s gardens. Why not contact the people in charge of that project, and ask if they would help start a community vegetable garden? The City may even have some land that it would be willing to contribute for the garden. I also noticed on the website that Wayzata has curbside leaf pick-up, so there is probably a composting site somewhere.

http://www.wayzata.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={77D44144-7C45-4FA1-9E5C-78ED6C891387}

Another great group to get involved with gardening is the Master Gardeners organization. These are volunteers who have taken a considerable amount of training and offer help and advice to people with gardening questions. Often they are older people who have a lot of experience gardening and love to help others, especially kids, learn to garden. Why not see if there is a Master Gardeners program or something similar in Wayzata?

A local school may also be interested in starting a gardening program. In my experience, school gardens almost always turn into community gardens because people in the community want to help. A wonderful book on how to start a school garden is “How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers” by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle. It has all kinds of examples and guides for starting a garden. Even if you don’t involve a school, this book would probably be helpful to anyone starting a community garden. Another good resource is the Kansas Garden Gate website, http://www.kansasgreenschools.org/green-schools-garden-gate.

Good luck—let me know how it goes!

   

We are very grateful to Shari Wilson for her willingness to participate as an expert in the "Going Green" project and her detailed answers and explanations to our students' questions!


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she supports the educational management of the Teach About US initiative.

#GoingGreen #Experts
 

There is a wonderful spot west of the city of Frankfurt in Germany. It’s in an area well known for its excellent white wine, its charming hilly landscape, and its welcoming people. It’s called The Rheingau.

Photo caption: The city of Rüdesheim is located by the river Rhine (photo credit: JeLuF on Wikimedia)

Once you make your way up a hill from Rüdesheim, maybe comfortably using the cable car, a fantastic view over the river Rhine opens up. From there, the Niederwald landscape park, you can see for miles to the West, overlooking the tranquil Rhine valley and even have the illusion that you actually see France.

"Germania", Markus Ziener

“Germania” | photo credit: Markus Ziener

When I was there not long ago my daughter asked me about the statue named Germania that is hovering over the platform where people are gathering for the view. The 34-foot figure is called Germania. In her right hand the lady holds the emperor’s recovered crown; in her other she displays the Imperial Sword. I explained that the monument’s message was not a peaceful one. Only a few years before the inauguration of the statue in 1883, Prussia had just fought another war with France, uniting the German principals for the first time into a single nation state. The Germania was nothing else but a warning to the French: Stay where you are, don’t even think about coming here. This is ours.

My daughter was bewildered. War with France? Of all countries? War with our best neighbor, friend, and closest ally in the European Union? I had to smile – and thought that maybe those historians are wrong who believe that nations always fall into the same trap. After so many bloody wars between Germany and France, both countries finally did the right thing after the carnage of the Second World War. They learned from history – thanks to the prevailing of reason and thanks to Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. The French President and the German Chancellor turned from arch enemies into friends. This seems to have worked so well that even a 17-year old today could not believe that a little more than 70 years ago things were just the opposite.

Nations time and again reach certain milestones, and their leaders have to make far-reaching decisions. Luckily, they are not always about war and peace. Mostly making choices whether to turn left or right at a historic junction are much more profane – or at least they look profane. Nonetheless they often have a lasting impact, and it takes some wisdom to do the right thing.

»He  (Donald Trump) follows the pattern après moi, le déluge’In other words: I don’t care what happens once I am gone.«

Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord is such an example. The U.S. under its President Donald J. Trump has decided to make a turn, to exit the road the nation was on. Trump probably truly thinks that this decision is good for business, for employment, for his job approval, for his re-election. He thinks of the short-term benefits this move may produce – for him, his administration, and his electoral base. He does not bother about what one or two generations ahead a 17-year old may think of it. He follows the pattern après moi, le déluge’. In other words: I don’t care what happens once I am gone.

Trump, of course, is not the only politician to act that selfishly. Our democratic systems with elections every four or five years makes it difficult for political leaders to withstand the temptations of reaping the low hanging fruits. Although in this case, the decision is particularly hard to comprehend. Committing to stop global warming is a win-win situation – even if you think that climate change is a hoax. Why? If climate change were man-made, reducing CO2 emissions obviously is the right thing. And if global warming, in fact, is the fate of the earth no matter what, then we all might find out too late to reverse course.

Two of my favorite books are Why Nations Fail and Collapse, written by Daron Acemoglu/James A. Robinson and Jared Diamond respectively. The authors collected examples of historical crossroads at which leaders took the wrong turn eventually brought about catastrophes even though they knew better. One case study is the demise of the Easter Islands in the South Pacific. According to Diamond, the tree-covered island was destroyed by Polynesian colonists. They cut down the trees to worship their religious cult by putting up massive statues. As deforestation worsened, the islanders tried to appease their gods by erecting even more statues. In the end, the vicious cycle of human stupidity led to catastrophe.

Jared Diamond finally writes: “I have often asked myself, ‘What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”?

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


Markus Ziener //  02 July 2017 //

Markus Ziener is an author and professor of journalism at the University for Media, Communications and Economics (HMKW) in Berlin. Prior to that he was the head of the op-ed section of Handelsblatt, Germany’s leading business daily. From 2006 to 2012, he served as head of the Washington bureau of Handelsblatt.

We'd like to give a shout-out to our colleagues at the American Studies Blog who featured this story on June 21, 2017. We repost Markus Ziener's text with permission by the author and blog editors.

#GoingGreen
 

Amanda Thoet

As a student in education at Lueneburg University, I completed a teaching practicum at the Berufsbildungszentrum Schleswig, a vocational school, in the northern German town of Schleswig this month. During this practicum, I personally got the chance to teach a class of 12th graders in English over the last couple of weeks. As I realized that part of this course's curriculum was supposed to cover the United States' political system, I was excited to connect this to my work here at Teach About US – I decided to expand the topic of my teaching unit to give my students the opportunity to discuss the 2016 election campaign in more detail in class.

Let's face it: One question that fascinates people during every general election is the role of the swing states, and my students weren't an exception here. My students were especially intriguied by the importance of archetypal swing states for this year’s election and what campaign issues could possibly influence people’s voting behavior in these states.

One group in my class researched the state of Pennsylvania and stumbled upon some tricky questions. What a great occasion to interview our distinguished U.S. student expert, Amanda Thoet, I thought. Amanda is a Pennsylvanian native and graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in May 2015, where she studied English, German and Communication Arts and Sciences. This is what my students were interested in:

 
Pennsylvania and the partisan divide

The first question focuses on the partisan divide in the state of Pennsylvania. The students wanted to know:

“Dear Amanda, Pennsylvania is an important swing sate in 2016 and both Trump and Clinton will need its electoral votes for the Presidency. The partisan divide seems to be running right through your state – industrial centers in the east and west lean Democratic while many Republican voters can be found in the rural heartland of your state. Is this also how you perceive the campaign in your home state?”

Here is Amanda’s take on this:

“Dear 12th graders in Schleswig, Pennsylvania is indeed an important swing state in the 2016 Presidential Election, especially as we near voting day on November 8th.  As someone who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and attended University in central Pennsylvania, I saw first-hand the exact differences you are talking about. For example, this past weekend I was driving to State College, Pennsylvania, which is located in the heartland of the state.  As I was driving, I saw a lot of  ‘Vote for Trump’ signs on lawns and bumper stickers on backs of cars. Central Pennsylvania is populated largely by people who support the National Rifle Association (the NRA) and participate in hunting as a recreational sport. The NRA is more aligned with the more conservative Republicans. Even though my family and friends are from Pennsylvania, we do not carry guns and are not involved in the NRA. In east and west Pennsylvania, there are two major cities, Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west. These urban centers are home to younger people such as University students and working professionals and therefore they lean more Democratic.”

   

What’s the role of the economy in the campaign in Pennsylvania?

Another question the same students were wondering about:

“Also, what’s the role of the economy in the campaign in Pennsylvania? That is, what are some economy-related issues in your state and what arguments do both sides offer?”

Again, Amanda:

“In terms of the economy in Pennsylvania, it has a large role in who Pennsylvanians vote for. Since Pennsylvania has a large number of blue-collar workers in the heartland (working in manufacturing) and because the economy is perceived to not be doing so well, these Pennsylvania citizens are dissatisfied with the current leadership in the White House and they want a change. On the other hand, the cities are prospering where white-collar workers are predominant, and the majority of people are content with the current leadership of our nation. Therefore as you already know, Pennsylvania is going to be a state to watch as the big day approaches”.

 

Thank you, Amanda, for taking the time to address my students' questions on the election in Pennsylvania, and let me also thank my 12th-grade English students in Schleswig for contributing these questions.

Do you also have question on the 2016 election? Grasp at the unique chance of getting your questions answered by U.S. election experts. Don’t hesitate to address any of the U.S. election experts and post your questions directly in the expert database.

  


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Embassy School Election Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts
 

Christina SickingerAs you might remember from my last blog post, I just completed my teaching practicum at the Berufsbildungszentrum in Schleswig in northern Germany. During this practicum my group of 12th graders in our English course researched the importance of archetypal swing states for this year’s election and what campaign issues could possibly influence people’s voting behavior in these states (among other things).

The group focusing on Florida came up with some general questions about the state, but what they were really interested in was to get a personal evaluation of the situation in Florida from someone who is familiar with that context. This was the perfect occasion to connect them with our U.S. election expert for the state of Florida, Christina Sickinger, who kindly agreed to give our students an insight into the campaign in her state. As a native of Tallahassee, Florida, Christina interned in Florida with Congresswoman Gwen Graham as well as with her county government this last summer, and she enjoyed the opportunity to learn about both federal and local government. The students wanted to know from her:

 
What makes Florida the archetypal swing state that it has been since 1992?

"Dear Christina," they asked, "what political issues influence the state of Florida the most and make it the archetypal swing state that it has been since 1992? How does political campaigning differ in Florida compared to other swing states?”

 

Here is Christina’s take on this:

“The main reason that Florida is the most important swing state to watch is pretty simple: With 29 electoral votes, Florida has more electoral votes at stake than any of the other states that are typically considered “swing states.” Although the state has about 4.8 million registered Republicans and 4.5 registered Democrats, it also has around 3 million independent voters who could go to either party, according to the Florida Department of State. These independent voters can decide who wins the state, so influencing their opinions is an important goal for both candidates.
 
Florida also includes two important populations: it has a reputation as the home for many retirees, but the state is also home to many Hispanic voters, who tend to be younger. Florida is a fairly large state with a population of almost 20 million, and I think that the variety of different demographic groups in different areas of Florida makes it difficult to predict how the state will vote as a whole.    
 
Florida’s history in presidential elections also makes it unique. Florida voted for the election winner in almost all presidential elections since WWII, with the notable exception of the 1992 election. The state went to the Democratic candidate (Barack Obama) in 2012 and 2008, but to the Republican candidate (George W. Bush) in 2004 and 2000. In 2000, the vote in Florida between candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush was so close that it had to be recounted. Bush finally won by a little over 500 votes, ensuring that he would be the next president. The election in Florida is normally quite close, and this history makes elections here even more interesting to observe!"

 

Thank you, Christina, for taking the time to address my students' questions on the swing state of Florida, and let me also thank my 12th-grade English students in Schleswig for contributing these questions.

We will be posting more from our experts in the two weeks until the election on November 8, so stay tuned.

 


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Embassy School Election Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts
 

Christianna StavroudisIs there a 'satire paradox' in political cartoons? Are laughter and social protest friends or foes? When a politician is being satirized, does this make the audience more critical of the politician because his or her shortcomings and weaknesses are being exposed and ridiculed publicly? Or does satire unintentionally 'whitewash' such criticism: When you laugh about something or someone, it can't be that bad, right?!

This week, we had a chance to ask our expert on political cartoons, Christianna Stavroudis, a native of Baltimore and lecturer in English linguistics at the University of Bonn. She's been an avid supporter of Teach About US right from its start and has instructed several seminars to teachers all over Germany on using political cartoons in the classroom.

I explained to Christianna that I recently had listened to Malcolm Gladwell's podcast 'Revisionist History' and in one recent episode he talks about political satire. He introduces it with this 2008 piece from Saturday Night Live starring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, who was then running as vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket:

Gladwell says that in newspapers and magazines (he is a staff writer for The New Yorker), you have to write in somber, reasonable tones; but in satire, you're allowed to say almost anything: "When you sugar-coat a bitter truth with humor," he says, "it makes the medicine go down." Yet, Gladwell also says that in SNL, the parody of Palin was "toothless", that is "comedy without any courage at all". Why? Because Tina Fey was too busy being funny. This eventually became evident when Sarah Palin herself appeared next to Fey in one episode – she was let in on the joke. Gladwell argues that "nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage."

A catchier example from this year's campaign is Jimmy Fallon's interview with Donald Trump, which Fallon ended by messing up Trump's hair. It sure was entertaining and made viewers laugh. But does it also challenge the audience's political views?

So, I guess you could ask whether this could also be applied to the genre of political cartoons: Should cartoons rather entertain or challenge the reader? Do you have an example or two?

I think it's important to define satire and distinguish it from political entertainment. True satire involves an element of ridicule (not to be confused with teasing, not synonymous with caricature). Unfortunately, this is not evident in a lot of the U.S. political entertainment this election season, including the examples you cited and many cartoons as well. The fact that presidential candidates and even the president appear on talk shows and in comedy sketches already shows that this platform has morphed from an outsider domain (in which there was a clear division between artist and ruling elite) to a hybrid one in which politicians can prove that they can take a joke at their own expense. As it appears, this is a requirement to be successful with a U.S. audience today.

 

A very interesting example of this is the Funny or Die "Between Two Ferns" interview between Zach Galifianakis and Barack Obama:

 

 

Obama went onto this platform in order to reach out to young people to get them registered for healthcare, but Galifianakis maintained the tone of his "insulting" talk show even in this context. When Obama gives the phone number that people can call to get signed up for healthcare, Galifianakis says, "Oh, I don't have a phone; I'm off the grid. I don't want you people, like, looking at my texts, if you know what I mean." To this Obama replies, "First of all, Zach, nobody's interested in your texts."

 

This is an example of "cooperative ridicule," and it's becoming the norm in shows in which the politicians and candidates can participate by interacting (and even performing) with the artists.

 

Coming back to your question, this is where political cartoons differ in that they generally derive from one cartoonist alone (minus editorial input from the publisher of the cartoon) and therefore don't allow for input by politicians. But they, too, can range from innocuous (Cartoon 1) to harsh (Cartoon 2).

 

The satire created by political cartoons can range from innocuous...
(Photo credit: 'Hillary Rattled', by Nate Beeler / The Columbus Dispatch, 09/28/2016. All rights reserved.)

 

...to harsh. This cartoon by Mr. Fish was published on Memorial Day 2009. In the U.S., Memorial Day is a federal holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.

(Photo credit: 'Real One', by Mr. Fish (Dwayne Booth), 5/24/2009. All rights reserved.)

The courage factor rests on both the artist and the audience if real change is to take place. (If that is even desired! Let's not forget that some people just like to complain, that the job of the satirist is to criticize, and that the title "satirist" does not a good person make. There is also a fine line between a satirist and a bully.)

 

Cartoons and video clips of these shows are passively and ever-more privately consumed, which in turn can have the effect of lulling audiences into feeling that they have "done something" merely because they have consumed what they perceive is satire. (Which do think sounds more sophisticated: "I'm watching a comedy show." vs. "I'm watching political satire.") Thus, labelling things satire that are in fact political entertainment can be a brilliant tool for manipulation for the politician clever enough to see it as something at his/her disposal and amiable enough to be watched by audiences. Satire in a U.S. context is often one of the first examples named in support of the First Amendment (Freedom of the Press; Free Speech). But the problem is: When you can say anything, you risk not saying anything at all.

 

True satire involves putting something on the line (reputation, status, etc.) and is therefore by definition something that does not easily fit into the mainstream. Just as a test, try to find a satirist who is willing to attack his audience as much as "the elite". Satirists who simply pander to their audience, lulling them into an "us vs. them/we're the little guy" mood are not taking many risks at all.

 

This is also not to say that artists can never commune with the subjects of their attacks (although it does make things easier). The interviews between Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart, for example, are quite revealing as are the roundtable discussions between Democrats and Republicans on Bill Maher's Real Talk program. Note also the criticism that both Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon have received (esp. from minority groups) as a result of their cooperations with Trump. A desire for consistency in politics and political media is being voiced in this campaign season (see Bernie Sanders supporters) as well as diversity of views and representation (#OscarsSoWhite and its effect on the industry; the role of #BlackLivesMatter in the election; the introduction of new political satire shows hosted by non-Americans like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and the new host of the Daily Show Trevor Noah).

 

It remains to be seen whether these trends will result in new approaches to satire, but, as always, the courage is a two-way street.

Thank you so much, Christianna.

We will be posting more from our U.S. election experts, our 'explainers-in-chief' soon on the blog, so stay tuned!

 


Joannis Kaliampos is the educational project manager for the U.S. Embassy's Teach About US platform. He is a research assistant at the Institute of English Studies at Leuphana University, Lüneburg and holds a Staatsexamen degree in teaching English and History at the Gymnasium from Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen. Joannis has developed teaching materials and has been leading teacher workshops for the U.S. Embassy's school projects since 2012.
#Election2016 #Experts
 

Matt Riley

North Carolina was for many years a Republican stronghold, but Barack Obama won the state by a slim margin in 2008. It is said that his success can partly be attributed to the demographic changes the state has seen in recent decades. But how do the state's demographics influence the voter's behavior in North Carolina? Only one out of a wide range of tricky questions on the election outcome.

group of students from the Strittmatter Gymnasium in Gransee, Germany, are currently focusing on the election in the state of North Carolina and came up with some interesting questions. Who else if not our U.S. election expert Matt Riley could help us out here? Matt if a former intern with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, a student in Public Policy, German and Policy Journalism at Duke University in North Carolina, and currently on an exchange semester in Berlin. At Duke, Matt writes as a journalist and investigative reporter at The Chronicle, the university's student paper, and has covered political stories ranging from Virginia congressional campaigns, North Carolina state politics, and a profile of lead U.S. negotiator in the Iran nuclear negotiations.

This is what the students from Gransee wanted to know from Matt:

 

How is North Carolina most likely going to vote and what influences do media have in this case?

“Hi Matt, we are students from the Strittmatter-Gymnasium-Gransee in Germany. We are working on the project "US Election". Every school got one state. We got North Carolina, so you are the best expert for us. We have to decide whether North Carolina will vote for Trump or Clinton, but it is very difficult for us. First we thought Trump would win but now, after reading the opinions of some North Carolina students we aren’t sure any longer if our first opinion was right. There are some questions we would like to ask you.

  • How do you think are the TV debates going to influence the people's attitudes and (social) media?
  • And how do you think the media influences the people?
  • Most importantly, what's your prediction for the North Carolina vote? And why?

  

We look forward to your answer. Thanks for helping us.

Jennifer, Lena, Jolanthe, Carolin”

     

Here is Matt what replied to them:

“Dear Jennifer, Lena, Jolanthe, and Carolin, recent polling by fivethirtyeight suggests that Clinton is ahead of trump by 2 to 6 percent in the traditionally red state. These numbers are close, but still disappointing for Trump as North Carolina (despite its balanced electorate) went Republican in three of the last four presidential elections. 

  

Trump may be holding out for a late comeback, Nate Silver writes, but because of the way North Carolinians vote, the picture is a bit more complicated. North Carolina is unique because it has high rates of early and absentee voting. While most of these early voters are dedicated partisan voters and not swing voters, this still means that many voters have already cast their ballots in favor of Clinton.

  

North Carolina is vital for a second reason Silver notes. He writes that, "because of the state's demographics, it acts as a hedge for Clinton in the event of a collapse in her support among white voters without college degrees, especially in the Midwest." Silver rates North Carolina as the fourth most important state in the election, ahead of traditionally prominent states like Ohio and Colorado, because of these two factors. 

  

On the media/campaign/debate: 

  

North Carolina is the only state with the elections for Governor, U.S. Senate, and President rated as a "toss-up" by the Cook report. This gives it political importance beyond that of the presidential election, as any increased investment in TV ads and more traditionally door-to-door campaigns could tip the scales in these three important elections one way. 

  

Presidential debates are often deemed more important than they actually are. They rarely act as a polling turning point as many people think. But they do move the polls a few points. The last presidential debate, however, had an important impact on the polling for Clinton, who experienced a 5.5 percent bump, as noted in the News and Observer. These are impressive numbers for Clinton, especially because the effect of the debate is more muted in North Carolina due to high early voting participation."

  

Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to address our students' questions on the state of North Carolina. I would also like to thank the students from the Strittmatter Gymnasium in Gransee for your interest in the exchange with our U.S. election experts and for your interesting questions. 

  


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Embassy School Election Project 2016.
#Election2016 #Experts
 

David Goldfield

Discussing environmentalism can be a tricky thing to do, especially in an intercultural project like Going Green. Over the last years, we've had several experts help us understand some of the difficult questions surrounding the field of sustainable development. Experts like David Goldfield, who was invited to Germany by the U.S. Embassy to give lectures and teach workshops on sustainable development in the U.S. He is the Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Some of our participants from previous Going Green cycles reached out to Professor Goldfield with their questions, inquiring about the Republican/Democrat divide regarding climate change, the rise of pollution in the past, and the significance of bike cities:

 

Is there still a considerable difference in attitude toward climate change between Democrats and Republicans?

Mr. Ulrich Kempkens and his students at Bettina-von-Arnim-Schule in Berlin asked:

“Is there still a considerable difference in attitude toward climate change between Democrats and Republicans?”

Here is Dr. Goldfield’s take on this:

“Hi, Uli. Good to hear from you. The answer is yes and no (helpful, right?). Actually, a number of Republican senators and congressmen believe climate change, particularly human-induced climate change, is a scientific fact and not one theory out of many theories. Some evangelical Protestant ministers also believe in climate change, and they are traditional supporters of the Republican Party. The problem is that the Republican base, particularly the very active Tea Party, and major donors such as the Koch Brothers, believe, at best, that the jury is still out on climate change, and that scientific evidence of human-induced climate change is dubious at best. The practical political result of these views is that Republicans running for office can rarely divulge their true views on climate change (a great example of this was the unanimous denial of the Republican candidates for president during their 2012 debates). Also, this makes legislation addressing climate change very difficult to achieve at the federal level, which is why many of the current innovations occur at the state level. It is another example of the growing divide between the Democratic and Republican Parties in the U.S.

  

Do you think it's possible that the world could ever change in a positive way?

We received further questions from a class of 10th graders at the Goethe Gymnasium in Frankfurt. They were wondering about these aspects:

1. “Do you think it's possible that the world could ever change in a positive way?”

2. “How can people, for instance in Germany or Australia etc. (in countries where people consume a lot) do something for our ecological footprint without cutting down their spending?”

Again, David Goldfield: 

“Dear Victor, Moritz, and Valeriia,

Thanks for your questions. I am basically an optimist, so I think we can solve these environmental problems, hopefully, before it’s too late. My optimism is based on what has happened here in the U.S. over the past 50 years. In many cities, including mine (Charlotte, North Carolina), the air is cleaner, the rivers and streams are more supportive of life, and there has been growth in the use of renewable energy. But, your question asks about the “world,” not about developed economies such as Germany and the U.S. The efforts to create a world-wide pact or agreement on the environment have been disappointing. Developing nations complain that the developed nations attained their status by polluting the environment, and now they want to impose restraints on poorer nations. We need to do a better job demonstrating to poorer nations that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive

Which brings me to your second question. We have a saying in the U.S.: “You can pay now, or pay a lot more later.” As climate change begins, increasingly, to have a monetary impact on the U.S. (and on other countries as well), particularly with respect to disappearing shorelines, increased flooding, and serious weather events, as time goes buy the expense for addressing these issues will increase dramatically. But, politicians rarely think in the long-term, even, say, next month, particularly at the national level in the U.S. Fortunately, many of our states have been pro-active. They have demonstrated that alternative energy sources, pollution control, and recycling will result in monetary savings for both consumers and governments. The costs of alternative energy such as wind power and solar power are continuing to come down and are increasingly competitive with conventional energy sources.”

  

How do you evaluate the development of pollution (caused by humans) in the past 50 years or so?

Natalie from Leipzig, Germany raised the following issues:

“Based your background in history, how do you evaluate the development of pollution (caused by humans) in the past 50 years or so? Is there any chance that we can lower the negative impact effectively?”

David Goldfields answer to this:

“Hi, Natalie. I have wonderful memories of Leipzig, particularly its heritage as a center for great classical music. It proves that humans can create things of great beauty. Which brings me to your question. Here in the U.S., we have made significant strides in attacking air and water pollution over the past 50 years. A major reason for this is that many more people in the U.S. are aware of pollution and the problems caused by pollution. Let me give you a specific example. In 1952, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire because of all the chemical pollutants in the water. The event scarcely made the news. In 1969, the river caught fire again and there was national outrage and concern. What happened in the meantime was that we were made aware of polluting industries and the health and environmental havoc they were visiting upon humans and the natural environment. Soon after, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Act and subsequently established the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result of federal and state policies over the past 50 years, our water and air are cleaner and we are developing (slowly, to be sure) alternative energy sources.

We still have a long way to go. The major problem is not technology; it’s the political will. The momentum has slowed in the U.S. over the past 15 years. Hopefully, we will not have to wait for another disaster to move federal policy forward.”

  

How is it that cities like Portland encourage people to leave their cars at home and ride their bikes instead – and thereby even create revenues of many million dollars?

A final question came from Jacques, BIP Kreativitätsgymnasium Leipzig. He wanted to know:

“While we worked on the topic City/Transport (Portland, Oregon - A sustainable city?), a question came into our mind. People pay taxes on cars and gas, which can create profits for communities. But how is it that cities like Portland encourage people to leave their cars at home and ride their bikes instead – and thereby even create revenues of many million dollars? In my opinion this is impossible, because the car holder should have to pay taxes for the car and insurance. So, wouldn’t the city lose money if there were no people paying these taxes?”

Here is David Goldfield's response:

“Good question, Jacques. If everyone rode bikes in Portland, the city would benefit tremendously. First, most of those taxes are state and federal taxes, so the city of Portland benefits little from those revenues except in the maintenance and building of roads, which only encourages more automobiles. Second, the savings in road maintenance, parking spaces, and the health benefits derived from cleaner air would more than make up for any lost revenues as a result of the diminished presence of the automobile. This is why cities across the U.S., including my own (Charlotte, NC) are pushing to extend public transportation – we are extending our light rail (trolley) system here in Charlotte and extending our network of bike paths. We believe that these policies are all part of making cities more “livable,” and, therefore, attracting bright, energetic, and well-educated young people to make our cities interesting and economically vital.”

 

Once again we would like to thank the students for sending in these interesting questions and also David Goldfield for sharing his expertise with us. Remember, it is you who make Going Green a bi-national project, so keep the good work going!

  


Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she supports the educational management of the Teach About US initiative.
#Experts #GoingGreen 
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