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Civics 101

New Hampshire Public Radio / Panoply

+24 FANS
Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College? How do congressional investigations work? What does the minority whip actually do? Civics 101 is the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works.

33:31 | Sep 10th

The job description is pretty sparse, the laws are convoluted and the path from A to Z seems fraught with peril. So how does a person go from candidate to nominee to Leader of the Free World? We asked some heavy hitters for the inside scoop on runnin...Show More

19:01 | Aug 13th

It's time for the 2nd annual winner of our Student Contest! Our winners are Jessie Aniloff, Katie Bruni, and Tara Czekner from Anthony Micalizzi's class at Villa Joseph Marie High School In their podcast, On the Bench, they share their thoughts on re...Show More
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26:26 | Aug 6th

We at Civics 101 adore Schoolhouse Rock and that sad little scrap of paper on the steps of the Capitol. But today we try to finish what they started, by diving into the messy, partisan, labyrinthine process of modern-day legislation.This episode feat...Show More

24:20 | Jul 30th

A tug of war, a balancing act, two dancers dragging each other across the floor. This is the perpetual ebb and flow of power between the states and the federal government. How can things be legal in a state but illegal nationally? Are states obstinat...Show More

22:39 | Jul 23rd

The Supreme Court, considered by some to be the most powerful branch, had humble beginnings. How did it stop being, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, "next to nothing?" Do politics affect the court's decisions? And how do cases even get there?This ...Show More

23:59 | Jul 16th

There are 535 people who meet in the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill. They go in, legislation comes out. You can watch the machinations of the House and Senate chambers on C-SPAN, you can read their bills online. But what are the rules of engagement? ...Show More

21:22 | Jul 9th

In this episode of our Starter Kit series, a primer on the powers of the President, both constitutional and extra-constitutional. Also, a super inefficient mnemonic device to remember the 15 executive departments in the order of their creation.Featur...Show More

15:34 | Jul 2nd

We exist in a delicate balance. Ours is a system designed to counterweight itself, to stave off the power grabs that entice even the fairest of us all. The U.S. government is comprised of humans, not angels, so each branch has the power to stop the o...Show More

01:18 | Jun 25th

An announcement of our new series, airing on July 2.

30:52 | May 14th

It's our last week of our Fund Drive, click here to support seasons to come!It's also the final episode of our Life Stages series, and its euphemism-free. We speak to a doctors, lawyers, professors, and funeral professionals about the rules of death;...Show More

29:13 | May 7th

Dear listeners! If you're so inclined, you can support our podcast by clicking here -- we've got a Separation of Powers magnet, a private tour of the National Archives and much more to show our thanks.The prospect of retirement -- of leaving the work...Show More

35:27 | Apr 30th

Hey folks! Click here to support the podcast; $20 gets you a Separation of Powers fridge magnet, $60 gets you a snazzy tote bag!Today, what does it really mean to be married? Divorced? What changes in the law's eyes?  What do you have to do? And, mos...Show More

37:57 | Apr 23rd

The modern day workplace is the product of a centuries-long battle for fair wages, reasonable hours and safe conditions. Today's episode tells the story of the labor in the United States -- from slavery and indentured servitude to the Equal Pay Act a...Show More

32:32 | Apr 16th

As Adam Laats said, "when it comes to schools, the most important thing is who you are, and where you live."In today's episode, we explore how K-12 education has developed in the US since the 1600s, what teachers can and can't teach, what rights stud...Show More

31:39 | Apr 9th

What does it take to be born an American citizen? And then, once you are, how do you prove it? And what does it get you? Today on Civics 101, we talk to Dr. Mary Kate Hattan of Concord Hospital, Dan Cassino of Farleigh Dickinson University, Susan Pea...Show More

25:25 | Feb 26th

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to our Constitution. Why do we have one? What does it 'do'? And what does it really, really do?Our guests are Linda Monk, Alvin Tillery, David O. Stewart, Woody Holton, David Bobb, and Chuck Taft. Visit ...Show More

01:56 | Feb 22nd

Go to for rules and resources. Make an under 15 minute podcast episode in any format by May 15th. We want to hear about your favorite civics primary source. This can be anything from Abigail Adams’ pocket to an interview ...Show More

30:11 | Feb 19th

Ten days after the Constitution was signed at the Old Philadelphia State House, an anonymous op-ed appeared in the New York Journal. Signed by "Cato," it cautioned readers of the new Constitution to take it with a grain of salt. Even the wisest of me...Show More

38:51 | Feb 12th

After just six years under the Articles of Confederation, a committee of anxious delegates agreed to meet in Philadelphia to amend the government. While the country suffered recession and rebellions, a group of fifty-five men determined the shape of ...Show More

22:41 | Feb 5th

While a famous committee of five drafted the Declaration of Independence, a far more unsung committee of thirteen wrote America's first rulebook. The Articles of Confederation was our first constitution, and it lasted nine years. If you prefer Typee ...Show More

28:21 | Jan 29th

America declared independence on July 2, 1776. But two days later it adopted this radical, revolutionary, inclusive, exclusive, secessionist, compromising, hypocritical, inspirational document. What does it say? What does it ignore? This episode feat...Show More

28:18 | Jan 22nd

Magna Carta was sealed on a field in England in 1215. It's purpose was to appease some frustrated Barons, and it was never intended to last. Over 800 years later, this document is credited with establishing one of the most foundational principles of ...Show More

02:36 | Nov 20th, 2018

For our next season, we're going to tackle America's founding documents: Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers. Episode One will release on January ...Show More

28:45 | Nov 6th, 2018

We've told you that midterm elections matter. But the truth is, midterms only matter to you -- and you only matter to your legislators -- if you show up at the polls. It's the first step in making yourself heard. And once you have, you mean that much...Show More

27:40 | Oct 30th, 2018

Regardless of how you choose to vote on Prop 1, you'll finish this episode knowing all about ballot measures. These are bills and amendments initiated by the people, and voted into law by the people. What could possibly go wrong when we sidestep our ...Show More

30:51 | Oct 23rd, 2018

How do you stand out in a sea of lawn signs, or make yourself heard above the roar of a thousand ads? Campaigns are hard enough when the whole country is watching -- so what does it take to get the vote when most people couldn't care less? That's the...Show More

26:53 | Oct 16th, 2018

Two houses, both alike in...well, many things.  But oh so different in many others. We go from absolute basics to the philosophical differences that exist in the Legislative branch. This episode features the opinions of former staffers from both cham...Show More

23:37 | Oct 9th, 2018

Midterm elections don't have the glitz or drama of presidential campaigning. They're full of aldermen and comptrollers, state senators and governors. These offices seem meager next to national government. But most of the time, it's state and local of...Show More

23:03 | Oct 2nd, 2018

Today we launch our five-part series on the midterm elections! Keith Hughes, creator of Hip History, tells us the five things he thinks every American should know about midterms and why they matter.Each episode in this series concludes with a snapsho...Show More

31:16 | Aug 21st, 2018

First off, our next season of Civics 101 will launch this October with a special miniseries on the midterm elections. Each episode will better educate you on what you're voting for in November (you are voting, right? Even if you can't yet, we've got ...Show More

26:30 | Aug 7th, 2018

A rebroadcast to get ready for the school year: we're digging into four incredibly important Supreme Court cases - four cases that have shaped how we interpret the meaning of free speech in public schools.  Is political protest allowed in class?  Is ...Show More

21:10 | Jul 31st, 2018

On today's episode we're looking into a practice that sets the U.S. aside from all other Western countries: Capital Punishment. So, is the death penalty a part of the constitution? How has the Supreme Court ruled on the issue? And ultimately, what ca...Show More

20:36 | Jul 24th, 2018

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee legal equality under U.S. law, regardless of sex. But almost a century after it was first proposed, the ERA has still not been ratified. What's th...Show More

20:10 | Jul 17th, 2018

On today's episode, we tackle a defining law from the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act -- better known as Obamacare. Some people love it, others hate it, but what did the law really do? Is American health care actually more, you know, af...Show More

16:31 | Jul 10th, 2018

Today on Civics 101, Ron Elving takes us through Tariffs. What are they? What are the pros and cons of taxing goods that enter our country? What is the effect on the consumer? And finally, how do trade wars end?

23:24 | Jul 3rd, 2018

Adia Samba-Quee is the winner of our first ever student contest. She wrote, narrated, and cast a "Parks n' Rec-style mockumentary about the arguments surrounding representation at the Constitutional Convention in 1787."  

21:59 | Jun 26th, 2018

Do you believe in the power of an informed citizenry? Click this link to support Civics 101 today. When you hear 'the draft' you might think about the Vietnam War... but the history of compulsory military service goes all the way back to before the C...Show More

12:51 | Jun 19th, 2018

Show your support for Civics 101. Click here to donate: a listener opens up a rabbit hole, and we immediately jump down it. We're learning about the Federal Register, a dense, cryptic document published every single day that...Show More

15:31 | Jun 12th, 2018

Hey folks! We're raising money to support this podcast. Please click this link and donate today! the Human Genome Project? The massively complicated international undertaking that aimed to map the entirety of human DNA? ...Show More

20:52 | Jun 5th, 2018

Norm Stamper was a past-Chief of Seattle's Police Department and an officer with the San Diego PD. He joins us to talk about the history of modern policing, the role of police today, and how to make sense of controversial police killings. 

18:26 | May 29th, 2018

Drinking water in the United States is, according to the EPA, among the world's "most reliable and safest supplies." Its delivery involves a complex infrastructure of pipes, treatment facilities, aqueducts, dams, and reservoirs, and it operates on a ...Show More

17:08 | May 22nd, 2018

On today's episode: What exactly is the Freedom of Information Act, better known as FOIA? Can anybody use it to get their hands on... any public documents? What kind of government secrets have come to light as a result of FOIA? We talk shop with Jaso...Show More

19:56 | May 15th, 2018

Space is big - like, insanely, incomprehensibly big - so it's understandable that NASA can seem divorced from the world of cabinet secretaries, White House press briefings, and presidential tweets. Amy Shira Teitel is the host of the YouTube channe...Show More

17:08 | May 11th, 2018

Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR, has reported on White House press briefings for 3 administrations. She tells us about the role of the Press Secretary, and how the job has changed from president to president. 

19:17 | May 8th, 2018

ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is one of the nation's youngest law enforcement agencies. It's also become one of the most controversial. But what does ICE actually do?  Dara Lind, a senior reporter for Vox, walks us through how ICE...Show More

20:24 | May 1st, 2018

Miranda Summers Lowe, Military Curator at the Smithsonian and active National Guard soldier, tells us the history of the Guard, the process for calling them out, and what sets them apart from other branches of the USAF. 

20:22 | Apr 24th, 2018

On today's episode: what happens when the incumbent president leaves office and the president-elect enters? How is information shared? What laws or guidelines govern the transition of power? We talked with Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partners...Show More

15:33 | Apr 20th, 2018

On today's episode: How does the government respond when an American is taken hostage? Is it true that we don't negotiate with terrorists? Who in the government handles these situations? We talked with Chris Mellon, a policy analyst at New America an...Show More

20:15 | Apr 17th, 2018

Dams, highways, telephone poles... all of these things fall under the huge umbrella we call INFRASTRUCTURE.  But what does all that concrete and copper have to do with government?  More than you might think. Our infrastructure is what gives Americans...Show More

17:31 | Apr 13th, 2018

On today's episode: What is foreign aid, and how much money does the U.S. spend on it? Is it purely humanitarian, or is it strategic? And how do we know if foreign aid actually works? Addressing these issues with us is Brian Atwood, senior fellow at ...Show More

17:37 | Apr 10th, 2018

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a U.S. foreign intelligence service. It was created in the wake of World War II and Pearl Harbor, at the dawn of the Cold War. But the agency's record and methods are controversial. What is the purpose of the ...Show More

18:39 | Apr 6th, 2018

On today's episode: How does the government look out for people who use a wheelchair, are deaf or blind, or have other disabilities? What forms of discrimination do people with disabilities face, and what did it take to get protections passed into la...Show More

17:21 | Apr 3rd, 2018

The Eighth Amendment grants us the right for protection against excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishment. But how do we define cruel and unusual? And how has that definition changed over the course of history? Is it still "an eye for an...Show More

17:35 | Mar 30th, 2018

The Justice Department seems to always be in the news - from the White House's public criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to the President's firing of James Comey - but what's behind the headlines? What exactly does the DOJ do from day-to-da...Show More

16:30 | Mar 27th, 2018

Every now and again, reports come out that a public official has violated The Hatch Act - a 1939 law that prevents federal employees from engaging in certain types of political activity and speech.  Today, we'll find out what exactly is and is not al...Show More

19:27 | Mar 23rd, 2018

When an ordinary citizen interacts with law enforcement, it can be unnerving to realize the amount of power an officer wields: they've got the guns, the handcuffs, and the authority. But the Fourth Amendment places limits on governmental and police p...Show More

20:34 | Mar 20th, 2018

The FBI is our federal law enforcement agency. And, to enforce the law, it plays the role of secret intelligence agency as well. So how does the FBI protect us against domestic threats? And how far has it been willing to go to uphold the law? Journal...Show More

18:53 | Mar 16th, 2018

On today's episode: What does the United States do when it captures prisoners of war? What are the Geneva Conventions? How did 9/11 change our commitment to treating prisoners humanely, and what mark has it left on public opinion about torture? 

16:43 | Mar 13th, 2018

They are two of the most powerful positions in a president’s cabinet: the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. One has been around since the American Revolution, the other is relatively new. So what exactly do these two departments and th...Show More

19:05 | Mar 9th, 2018

On today's episode: What are the norms of democratic government, and where do they come from? Which norms are essential to U.S. democracy, and how are they changing today? We put these questions to the authors of How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky ...Show More

29:39 | Mar 6th, 2018

Today, our second IRL puts it up the flagpole and sees if anyone salutes it. Hannah goes into the history of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance and how they've changed since their inception. Then Nick talks about four times behavior towards the fl...Show More

18:09 | Mar 2nd, 2018

The Constitution doesn't explicitly guarantee the right to vote, but it's widely considered to be a fundamental way for citizens to participate in American democracy. Who gets to vote and why?Victoria Bassetti is the author of Electoral Dysfunction: ...Show More

17:51 | Feb 27th, 2018

After the Civil War, Congress passed a bundle of Amendments which came to be known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Their purpose was to address the mass racial inequality that plagued the still forming nation. But did they work? And are they still ...Show More

19:44 | Feb 23rd, 2018

Today, we continue our series on the Reconstruction amendments, the series of Constitutional amendments passed in the aftermath of the Civil War. Congress outlawed slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, but freed slaves still were not legally citizen...Show More

17:30 | Feb 20th, 2018

After the Civil War, Congress passed a bundle of Amendments which came to be known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Their purpose was to address the mass racial inequality that plagued the still forming nation. But did they work? And are they still ...Show More

17:13 | Feb 16th, 2018

What exactly is DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? Is it the same as the Dream Act? What will happen if it expires?  How do DACA recipients effect the economy?  Today, an explainer and brief history of DACA. Our guest is Sarah Gonza...Show More

18:23 | Feb 13th, 2018

The role of the First Lady carries a lot of responsibility, but it's really more custom than law. How has is changed over time, and who are the women who have defined the role?Susan Swain is co-CEO of C-SPAN. She was the host of their year-long serie...Show More

17:43 | Feb 9th, 2018

On this episode: How does the United States use, or more precisely avoid using, its fearsome arsenal of nuclear weapons? How did we arrive at a world in which so many countries are armed to the teeth with nukes? What can we expect from North Korea as...Show More

17:25 | Feb 6th, 2018

If you watch a lot of police procedurals, you’ll recognize this setup: beat cops get a visit from Internal Affairs and drama ensues.  As it turns out, government agencies also have their own internal watchdogs: investigators that make sure  federal p...Show More

17:51 | Feb 2nd, 2018

On today's episode: How does the government make sure elections are conducted fairly? Who's keeping track of all the money donated to candidates? Is the Federal Election Commission still relevant in the era of dark money and Super PACs? Joining us on...Show More

19:05 | Jan 30th, 2018

The secret ballot... the decorum of the polling place... the sanctity of the voting booth... these are the trappings of Election Day in the U.S., and they feel as old as time when you pull that curtain closed to (silently) voice your vote. But we hav...Show More

20:24 | Jan 26th, 2018

On this episode: What is a super PAC, and for that matter, what's a PAC? What are the rules they have to follow? Does spending money in an election count as free speech? We address campaign finance and the murky world of dark money with Dante Scala, ...Show More

17:25 | Jan 23rd, 2018

Welfare is one of the nation's most contentious and least understood social programs. What began as support for single mothers and their children has throughout history been a target for stigmatization and budget cuts. Premilla Nadasen is author ofWe...Show More

11:50 | Jan 20th, 2018

It happened. The government shutdown. But what does that mean? Civics 101 revisits an episode from September, 2017.  On this episode: What actually shuts down during a government shutdown?  Do federal workers still get paid? Who decides what governme...Show More

21:08 | Jan 19th, 2018

Today, we celebrate our one-year anniversary with the first annual Civics 101 lightning round, in which we answer all the little questions you sent us that we never got around to answering in a full episode. Joining us to test his civics knowledge ag...Show More

22:33 | Jan 16th, 2018

There are lots of political parties in the United States - so how come we pretty much only hear about two? What is the 'two-party system' and why does it hold sway? Is it an intentional part of governmental design, or is this simply how history shook...Show More

17:39 | Jan 12th, 2018

On today's episode: Who is the Surgeon General and what powers do they have? When a public health crisis strikes, what can the Surgeon General do? What influence did Surgeons General have on issues like smoking and HIV/AIDS? We sit down with Fitzhugh...Show More

17:35 | Jan 9th, 2018

The President of the United States is considered one of the most powerful people in the world. So what happens after the Commander-in-Chief becomes a civilian again? How does a former president shape his legacy after he leaves office? To find out, we...Show More

19:03 | Jan 5th, 2018

On this week's show: What does the Department of Homeland Security do? How has it evolved in the past decade and a half? Can it keep up with the changing nature of terrorism? Our guide today is Ron Nixon, the New York Times homeland security correspo...Show More

13:16 | Jan 2nd, 2018

On this week's episode: Who composed our national anthem? Why do we play it so often? And what's the significance of protesting during the anthem? Our guest is Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography. 

15:04 | Dec 29th, 2017

Every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has spent time at Camp David. But why was the presidential retreat built in the first place, and what happens there? To find out, we spoke to Retired Rear Admiral Michael Giorgione, former commanding of...Show More

16:22 | Dec 26th, 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...Show More

17:25 | Dec 22nd, 2017

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was established in order to plan and respond to nuclear war.  These days, they're tasked with showing up after all sorts of disasters strike. But what kind of resources does FEMA have to respond to storms, eart...Show More

14:44 | Dec 19th, 2017

What do alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives all have in common? They fall under the umbrella of a single federal bureau - commonly referred to as the ATF.  On this episode, what led to the creation of the ATF?  What kind of power do ATF agents...Show More

18:45 | Dec 15th, 2017

On today's episode: What does it mean to be an ally of the United States, who decides which countries we should be allies with, and how do our alliances influence the role of the United States around the world? To clear up these questions, we spoke w...Show More

17:09 | Dec 12th, 2017

In the 1960’s there was a growing awareness of urban plight and poverty, which was generally referred to as the "Urban Crisis" - the economic abandonment of large U.S. cities.  As part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" push came a cabinet...Show More

18:31 | Dec 8th, 2017

The National Archives and Records Administration is the forever home of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,  but what else do they keep in their vaults? Can just anybody do research at the Archives? And what role does NARA play...Show More

15:29 | Dec 5th, 2017

In this episode: What is the U.S. Flag Code? Who created it, and why? Is it enforceable? When did the American flag start getting used in advertising? What are the differences between the U.S. Flag Code and flag protection laws? Has the flag always b...Show More

12:40 | Dec 1st, 2017

In a given week, Congress might vote on everything from international diplomacy to wildlife conservation to internet regulation. How do individual members of Congress become experts on each of these subjects? The answer is: they don't. Congress divid...Show More

15:45 | Nov 28th, 2017

One of the founding institutions of America's government is also one of the most overlooked and surprising ones: the Postal Service. What role did it play in shaping the early, disparate colonies into a unified nation? How has it survived the digital...Show More

26:29 | Nov 24th, 2017

This is the first in a series called Civics 101 IRL; special episodes where we explore the historic moments connected to our regular podcast topics.  Today we're digging into four incredibly important Supreme Court cases - four cases that have shaped...Show More

19:12 | Nov 21st, 2017

On this episode:  What is a Native American reservation? What is a pueblo? What does it mean to be a sovereign nation? What is the relationship between reservations and the federal government? Can reservations pass laws that run up against state or f...Show More

14:04 | Nov 17th, 2017

In this episode: What do White House staffers actually do, what are the rules constraining them, and how have the day-to-day staffing demands of the White House changed over the years? Our guest is Karen Hult, Chair of the Department of Political Sci...Show More

16:26 | Nov 14th, 2017

 In this episode: What is a union? How are unions formed? What are the benefits and costs of labor unions, for both workers and business? What is the history of unions in America, and what might unions look like in the future? Our guest is David Zond...Show More

17:39 | Nov 10th, 2017

The vice president is said to be just a heartbeat away from Commander-in-Chief. But what does the VEEP actually do? How significant a role does the vice president play in the White House... and with the president? And what kind of effect can a runnin...Show More

16:28 | Nov 7th, 2017

On today's episode: The Second Amendment. For ages, the right to bear arms was among the least controversial amendments in the U.S. Constitution. Today,  it's among the most divisive issues in American politics. What were the Founders hoping to achie...Show More

17:15 | Nov 3rd, 2017

You've heard of the Secret Service and you've probably even seen them in action - observing stoically behind a dark suit and sunglasses. But what exactly do they do? How does someone become an agent? And how are they fairing with the demands of a Tru...Show More

16:03 | Oct 31st, 2017

On today's episode: We continue our investigation of the First Amendment with a conversation about the freedom of the press. What does this freedom guarantee publishers and journalists? Why did the Framers include it in the Constitution? And what doe...Show More

17:38 | Oct 27th, 2017

On this episode: What are the Federalist Papers? Who wrote them? Who uses them? And why should you read them? Michael Gerhardt, professor from UNC and scholar-in-residence at the National Constitution Center, not only explains these invaluable docume...Show More

13:30 | Oct 24th, 2017

On this episode: what is Populism? How can you identify a Populist candidate? What's its role inside of a democracy and what are some historical outcomes of populist movements? Our guest is Jan-Werner Mueller, professor of politics at Princeton Unive...Show More

17:25 | Oct 20th, 2017

On today's episode: a closer look at one of the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment: the freedom of assembly.  What is it? Is our freedom of assembly tied to other First Amendment rights, or does it stand alone? Are there limits to where and w...Show More

17:35 | Oct 17th, 2017

In the 1960’s, the American public looked around at the environment—polluted rivers, smoggy skies—and decided something needed to be done. By 1970, the blooming environmental movement had an official voice in the government: the Environmental Protect...Show More

16:49 | Oct 13th, 2017

Head of the Department of Education and a cabinet member with the ear of the President... but how much power does the Secretary of education really have? Can he or she influence policy? How much say does the Secretary have in the way we teach our kid...Show More

13:08 | Oct 10th, 2017

In this episode: What exactly does it mean when we say the President has "the nuclear codes”?  Is it really as simple as pressing a button? And what happens after a president does order a nuclear strike? Retired Marine lieutenant colonel James W. Wei...Show More

15:23 | Oct 6th, 2017

In this episode: What exactly does the CDC - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - actually do? Could it really stave off a zombie outbreak? And who are the 'Disease Detectives' and what's their role inside the CDC? Our guest is Wendy Parm...Show More

16:12 | Oct 3rd, 2017

Every so often, while our national debt ratchets upward, politicians threaten to refuse to raise the upper limit on that debt. But does the debt ceiling actually curb the government's borrowing, and what would happen if Congress didn't raise it? Our ...Show More

18:56 | Sep 29th, 2017

We're zooming in on the highest legal officer in the country and asking who, exactly, the Attorney General represents. If the AG is a member of the Executive Branch, does that make him the President's lawyer? And what happens when the U.S. government...Show More

17:38 | Sep 26th, 2017

On this episode: what is Federalism? Who uses it? Why do we separate our powers between the states and the national government, and what are the benefits and challenges of such a system? Our guest is John Dinan, professor at Wake Forest University an...Show More

13:54 | Sep 22nd, 2017

In this episode: What is the census, and why does it matter? How is it conducted? How are difficult to reach populations counted? What kind of questions are asked, and how are they determined? Our guest is Joseph Salvo, director of the population div...Show More

13:20 | Sep 19th, 2017

On this episode: What actually shuts down during a government shutdown?  Do federal workers still get paid? Who decides what government jobs are essential, and non-essential?  What can past government shutdowns tell us about the process? Our guest is...Show More

14:25 | Sep 15th, 2017

On this episode: What does it mean that the President is 'Commander-in-Chief'? What powers does the Constitution grant him? What is the difference between the President's power to conduct war, versus the power of Congress to declare it? Practically s...Show More

16:31 | Sep 12th, 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...Show More

16:13 | Sep 8th, 2017

On today's lesson: 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 Brooki...Show More

16:07 | Sep 5th, 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 mat...Show More

18:18 | Sep 1st, 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 constituti...Show More

16:40 | Aug 29th, 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 logistica...Show More

16:05 | Aug 25th, 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....Show More

10:53 | Aug 22nd, 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 w...Show More

14:32 | Aug 18th, 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...Show More

13:55 | Aug 15th, 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 remain fuzzy. Here to explain...Show More

13:25 | Aug 11th, 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 Senat...Show More

16:40 | Aug 8th, 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 Cars...Show More

17:02 | Aug 4th, 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 Rep...Show More

18:40 | Aug 1st, 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 operatin...Show More

15:27 | Jul 28th, 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 pardo...Show More

16:48 | Jul 25th, 2017

Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all U.S. territories, but what does that mean? Is there political representation? What is the status of its citizens with regard to the Constitution and ...Show More

15:12 | Jul 21st, 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 ...Show More

18:30 | Jul 18th, 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 t...Show More

15:47 | Jul 14th, 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 ...Show More

15:37 | Jul 11th, 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 ...Show More

13:36 | Jul 7th, 2017

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...Show More

12:26 | Jun 28th, 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 Profess...Show More

14:37 | Jun 21st, 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 Gov...Show More

13:54 | Jun 14th, 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...Show More

13:56 | Jun 7th, 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 int...Show More

14:14 | Jun 1st, 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 minu...Show More

15:36 | May 24th, 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, civi...Show More

14:44 | May 17th, 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 Brookin...Show More

11:23 | May 10th, 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 spee...Show More

13:06 | May 5th, 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 approximately 800...Show More

13:32 | Apr 26th, 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States hear about 80 cases each year, but how do lower court cases make their way to the highest court in the land, and how do they decide which ones to hear? We asked Behzad Mirhashem, Assistant Professor of Law at Un...Show More

13:58 | Apr 21st, 2017

Kristen in California asked: "How exactly does the cabinet work? How much control do the secretaries have? And are they loyal to the president or the department." We asked Dean Spiliotes, Civics Scholar at Southern New Hampshire University to help gu...Show More

14:35 | Apr 18th, 2017

Why are there no term limits on Congress, how long has it been that way, and what would it take to actually change how long someone can serve? In this episode we look into the long history of term limits for government officials from the President to...Show More

15:22 | Apr 14th, 2017

When Congress imposed the first personal income tax on Americans in 1861, nothing happened – because there was no agency to collect it! The following year saw the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, or as you know it today, the Internal Reven...Show More

10:58 | Apr 11th, 2017

One of our listeners sent in a question asking about “the ethics clause”, which forbids presidents from receiving foreign gifts. As it turns out, there isn’t something in the constitution with exactly that title – but there is something called the “E...Show More

16:11 | Apr 7th, 2017

The Army-McCarthy hearings, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the Select Committee on Benghazi, the Russian hacking probe. Congressional investigations are a staple of American politics, but how do they work? When is it Congress' job to investigate ...Show More

12:21 | Apr 4th, 2017

When Republicans first submitted their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle anxiously awaited the release of the Congressional Budget Office's analysis—or "score"—for the bill. Determining the long and short-...Show More

17:27 | Mar 31st, 2017

We've received a lot of questions about The Electoral College from listeners, from how it works, to why it was set up, and whether or not it can it be changed or removed. So we asked Ron Elving from NPR to explain the basics of The Electoral College,...Show More

15:23 | Mar 28th, 2017

When Senator Mitch McConnell barred Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking during the debate over Jeff Session’s nomination for Attorney General, he invoked Rule XIX. It's safe to say many people suddenly realized how little they knew about the rules...Show More

14:45 | Mar 24th, 2017

If managing your personal appointment calendar is a struggle, imagine what it must be like for the President of the United States? From daily meetings, to promoting policies in speeches across the country, to elaborate trips abroad, the Office of Sch...Show More

13:50 | Mar 21st, 2017

The presidential veto is one of the cornerstones of the system of constitutional checks and balances the framers used to prevent the misuse or abuse of power within any branch of government. How has the veto been used historically and more recently? ...Show More

14:23 | Mar 17th, 2017

Over the years, gerrymandering has become synonymous with weirdly-shaped maps of electoral districts, nefarious political maneuvering, and partisanship. But when did gerrymandering become the norm? Is it always used for political gain? And is there a...Show More

16:50 | Mar 14th, 2017

They are two of the most powerful positions in a president’s cabinet: the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. One has been around since the American Revolution, the other is relatively new. So what exactly do these two departments and th...Show More

14:48 | Mar 10th, 2017

George Washington received five letters a day, Theodore Roosevelt received so many letters it became a fire hazard at the White House, and Ronald Reagan loved reading mail from the country’s youngest citizens. In today’s super connected world, who’s ...Show More

14:55 | Mar 6th, 2017

From Jimmy Stewart's unyielding speech in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" to today's threats of using the nuclear option for approving Supreme Court nominees, the term "filibuster" gets thrown around a lot, but what is it? What are the rules governing...Show More

12:00 | Mar 2nd, 2017

What exactly does it mean when we say a president “has the nuclear codes”? Is it really as simple as pressing a button? And what happens after a president does order a nuclear strike? Retired Marine lieutenant colonel James W. Weirick explains. #civi...Show More

12:56 | Mar 1st, 2017

The State of the Union address is a longstanding tradition that involves bizarre, unexplained protocol and more applause than a high school graduation. It’s also mandated by the constitution. In this episode, we learn how the SOTU has changed since G...Show More

12:28 | Feb 24th, 2017

A number of listeners have asked about a consequential government procedure: How is a president impeached? And why is it that the presidents that have been impeached haven’t been removed from office? Our guide today is Julia Azari, Associate Professo...Show More

12:37 | Feb 21st, 2017

We're staying on the federal court system beat with a deeper look into the Supreme Court. The word "supreme" is defined as: “an authority or office superior to all others.” So when the Supreme Court decides on a case, it’s final, right? Not exactly. ...Show More

13:18 | Feb 16th, 2017

When a trio of judges on a federal appeals court in Washington state upheld a freeze on president Trump's Executive Order on immigration, some people celebrated, the administration protested - and at least a few people said: “Wait a minute... How *do...Show More

15:50 | Feb 13th, 2017

You may have heard of executive orders… but how about executive memoranda? Today, we talk about the different tools of executive action that the President uses to direct his administration, and enforce public policy. Are they laws? Can they be revoke...Show More

14:46 | Feb 9th, 2017

What's the purpose of the National Security Council? When was it created? Who serves on it? And why is Steve Bannon's appointment to its principals committee such a big deal? Former NSC member Stephen Sestanovich helps answer those questions. Submit ...Show More

17:11 | Feb 7th, 2017

We're often urged to call our elected representatives to voice opinions on the issues, but what happens after that call is made? Where does the message go? And do those calls ever sway decisions? In this episode of Civics 101, we go into a congressio...Show More

13:26 | Feb 2nd, 2017

It’s been 25 years since the last constitutional amendment was ratified. How hard is it to change our most sacred document? We discover that there are not one, but two ways to amend the constitution – and one of them has never been used. Walter Olson...Show More

10:08 | Jan 31st, 2017

You've probably heard the term "comment period", but do you know what it means? What exactly happens when a government agency opens a proposed rule to public comment? And do these comments ever sway decision making? Today, a look into the notice and ...Show More

14:10 | Jan 25th, 2017

What's it really like for a journalist stationed at the White House? We go inside the press briefing room with NPR's Senior White House Correspondent, Scott Horsley. Civics 101 is a production of NHPR #civics101pod

13:02 | Jan 19th, 2017

We're all familiar with the title, but what does a White House Chief of Staff actually do? What does the daily routine entail? And how much power does the position hold? Our inaugural episode covers the basics of the President's gatekeeper. #civics1...Show More

01:20 | Jan 13th, 2017

Ever wonder what a White House Chief of Staff actually does? How about a Press Secretary? When did gerrymandering become a thing? The first 100 days of the Trump administration is the perfect time to bone up on civics you should have learned in schoo...Show More