Thursday, June 28, 2012

Constitutional Jeopardy

Anybody reading these blogs probably already knows that I get up around 8:45 AM, go to breakfast, and then go to class at 10 AM. I continue to use these opportunities to meet new people, and, on a similar note, I am amazed at the number of international students attending this High School program. Off of the top of my head, I can think of students I have met from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore, China, and Japan. It's been fantastic meeting kids from all sorts of places around the world, as I've been able to ask them questions like what they think of America, how diverse their home countries are and other questions about cultures I've never had the chance to experience. To give an example, the kid from Brazil in my Constitutional Law class is appaled by how lengthy the process to pass bills takes, particularly the filibuster procedure.
Anyway, in my first class we had more theoretical discussion about the Constitution, like the previous days, before going into the Supreme Court cases. We discussed the fascinating sequence of events involving the Watergate scandal, and, more importantly, the ensuing case of United States v. Nixon. We also discussed the cases of Missouri v. Holland, Clinton v. New York and Gibbons v. Ogden.
I was very upset that I had to miss the video and discussion during lunch on economic inequality; I made the decision to study for my afternoon quiz instead. Thankfully, it ended up paying off; I did well on the quiz, and I feel my studying made a huge difference. After the quiz, we played Constitutional Jeopardy (Jeopardy with categories such as "Interpretation" and "Checks and Balances"), which I actually had a lot of success in. I'm not saying this to brag, but because this is a blog where I am supposed to tell of my experiences, I answered correctly 4 out of a possible 9 questions while competing against 4 other people who had an equal chance to answer those 9 questions.
The class playing Constitutional Jeopardy. I didn't notice until I uploaded the photo just now, but if you have good eyes, you
can see the #9 jersey of Italy's Mario Balotelli on the laptop screen in the bottom left corner of the photo. The kids obviously
were participating too, as you can't have success in this class without paying attention, but I thought this was sort of funny.
After class, we met for our usual cohort meeting, and discussed, among other things, some of our plans for the next few weeks. One of the Resident Assistants will be taking kids to a Phillies-Mets game next week, which I was really excited for, until I saw it was $80. If $80 was the only way to go, I would probably choose to go simply because it's very rarely that you get to see a baseball game out of town. On the other hand, I did my research (I ALWAYS do my research) and found that the Mets sell tickets to students for only $10. I would normally buy those the instant I saw them, however, I am in a bit of an awkward situation due to the fact that I am one of the few people at this High School program who are this money-conscious, and as a result, trying to convince someone to choose $10 seats doesn't hold the same advantages to others as they hold to me. Like I said, if I do have to spend $80, I am ok with that and am perfectly willing to do it, however, I don't think that is the case. I know that as soon as I read this, my parents will tell me to go, but before they get worried, I WILL go to a baseball game, no matter what happens. I am just debating whether to go with the RA group for $80, or to convince others to choose a cheaper alternative. We'll see. On this note, that is another thing I have been able to experience here. Coming from a school district where the majority of students come from low-income families, it has been a completely different experience living with kids who, for the most part, come from a bit more affluent backgrounds. Before anyone gets the idea that I am making a sweeping statement about every student at the program, let me make very clear that this only applies to the students I have met, all of whom are very good kids. I can't say that I enjoy one experience more than the other; it has just been different for me, coming from groups who think just like me and now, living with a group of kids who generally are not as financially concerned as most of the people I know back home. I can say, though, that while the setting has changed, I have not changed one bit; I have been introduced as "one of the thriftiest kids you'll ever meet," and while I do not mind this at all, it is a bit strange for me because, where I come from, there are plenty of kids just like me! It is all part of the experience though.
I WILL go here before I leave New York.
Also, I almost forgot to mention today's historic Supreme Court case! While I was thrilled about the decision, I'll admit that I had expected the individual mandate to be struck down. I was very surprised to learn that Chief Justice Roberts, who in his past has sided with conservatives much more often, ruled in favor of upholding the act. It is fantastic to see, though, that a Supreme Court justice is willing to put his/her political beliefs aside for what they believe to be the correct decision ACCORDING TO THE LAW. I put in this in capitals just because, as we have discussed in class, many judges often let their moral and political beliefs hold more power than the actual constitutionality of what it is they are deciding. While I applaud Chief Justice Roberts for voting with the Liberals on this case, I would expect every Liberal to do the same and vote with the Conservatives if it meant ruling by the supreme law of the Constitution.

I'll Take a Social Life for 600, Alex

As per usual, my morning consisted of walking up early, studying, skipping breakfast, and then finally heading off to class. While my daily routine may seem tedious to some, it's one that I've already grown accustomed to.

Like yesterday, the morning session was started off by a class discussion led by Luke. Today’s topic focused on morals, and how deeply they were interconnected with a justice’s decisions. During the discussion, Luke introduced to us two new topics. First were descriptive claims, which are “empirical” or practical interpretations that define what “is”.  Next were normative claims, which are interpretations directly influenced by present day social norms. Normative claims are considered to be what “ought” to be.

With these terms in mind, my class eventually reached an agreement. We reasoned that while judges attempt to make descriptive claims, there is always an application of morals whether they are a subconscious application or not. However, just because a judge’s ethics don’t agree with the case at hand, doesn’t mean that it affects their ability to properly do their job. A judge’s job isn’t to decide whether something is right or wrong—it’s to deem whether an act is to be considered constitutional or unconstitutional.

During the discussion, our class was briefly interrupted with a current news story—ObamaCare had been upheld! The health care plan had been passed on a 5-4 decision on the basis that it will be presented as a new state tax. The funny thing is that, initially, our class wasn’t of what the hearing actually was. The first two sources that we checked, FOX News and MSNBC, both got the original verdict wrong! After we celebrated the passing of the bill, we resumed the lesson by going over the cases from last night’s reading.

Since we had a quiz during the afternoon session, the review was much more in-depth than usual. Some of the cases we went over included Gibbons v. Ogden, US v. Nixon, and Clinton V. New York. The cases shared a common issue of the alleged infringement of the separation of powers between the court and Congress. 

Lunch was uneventful; I spent the first half hour eating lunch with the girls, sans Adrianne, as well as my new friends Joyce and Demi. I then spent the rest of lunch break studying for the quiz.

Today’s afternoon session consisted only of the quiz and another of Constitutional Jeopardy. I did fairly well on my quiz, I only missed two questions. As for Constitutional Jeopardy, my team and I didn’t do so well. By the end of the game, it was our 4,400 points to the winning team’s 8,200. Overall, we ended up ranking third out of five teams. The game’s questions were very challenging, and at one point, one of the teams had -600 points. While I think that it the game being so challenging made was what made it a great way to study, a part of me wishes that we played before the test.

When class was dismissed, my cohorts and I had our daily meeting with Mrs. L. During the meeting, we finalized our plans, talked about any concerns we may have. Afterwards, I ate lunch with the girls, and then returned to my dorm to start my homework.  

Today was nothing more than a normal day. Besides today’s test, there was nothing to really set it apart from any other day, which makes me concerned that I’m not taking advantage of all the opportunities I have.   Now I’m not only determined to participate in more mid-day activities, but some weekday RA trips as well! 

"The Ends Justify the Means." -Machiavelli

...At least that's the excuse Jefferson used during the aquisition of the Louisiana territory.

I had a broad sense of knowledge about Jefferson's appararent abandonment of states' rights and strict constructionism when he decided to purchase the territory from the French in 1803, but today with Dr.Porwancher, we dug deeper as to why he actually made this shocking decision. After our intensive discussion, we came to the realization that in reality, both states' rights and strict constructionism were ancillary to the greater good of republicanism and what he called the "Empire of Liberty." Although he is constantly accused of selling out his ideals, he was simply taking the steps he deemed necessary on his path towards liberty and ensuring the national security of his nation.

Today was probably my favorite day in class today. During our discussion about last night's article by Barry J. Balleck, "When the Ends Justify the Means: Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase," I contributed a lot to the discussion and rose my hand as often as I could whenever I felt like I had a good point to say. What made the discussion even more interesting, however, was due to the fact that often times I would disagree with one of the students and we would discuss our view points and learn a little from what each of us had to say.

The discussion only lasted for an hour today because Dr.Porwancher had arranged a guest speaker to visit our classroom. Her name was Kelly Dougherty, and she arranged for us an interactive debate-like session amongst our peers. As soon as we realized it was a "debate-like" activity, Aurea and I looked at each and smiled with glistening eyes because we both knew this would be exciting. Aurea and I are policy debate partners at Pinole Valley High School, which is considered the most intense and rigorous type of debate. Already use to the competitive nature and intensity of policy debate, I started heavily taking notes as Mrs.Dougherty would speak to us about the recent discussions about banning 16 ounce sodas from the state of New York. I looked across at Aurea and realized that she too was taking notes and jotting down every potential counter-argument and disadvantage. We chuckled realizing that we were the only two students in that class that were this heavily engaged in the activity even before it started.

After giving us some background knowledge of the plan, Mrs.Dougherty divided us into three distinct groups; the big businesses, the mayor, and the consumers. Aurea, Shayon, Hailey, and I were conveniently chosen as the consumers. I say "conveniently" because that was the group I was actually hoping to be a part of because I sympathized most for the typical New Yorkers.

We had 5 minutes to discuss with our group the importance of the issue at hand, our opinions on it, and the best solution for the problem. During the discussion, I had so much to say that at a certain point I realized a lot of the individuals of the other groups conclude their discussion and listen to me speak to my group. I was delighted when Hailey said to me in the midst of my discussion, "Okay, your going to be our speaker."
When the time was called, the mayor and the business group presented first, and our group was designated to go last. I constantly looked at the time to make sure I had enough time to present all my points, because I did have a lot to say.
To name a few;
1. The city of San Francisco recently decided to ban the toy from Happy Meals in McDonalds. People who still like to get the toy visit the nearby McDonalds chain right outside the city and get the toy they've been constantly seeing on the advertisements on televison. Similarly, the city of New York is only banning the soda from certain areas, not all. For example, Seven Eleven is still permitted to sell sodas larger than 16 ounces, so if someone really wanted a liters-sized soda, they can simply walk down to a 7/11 or any other store that does permit the sale and purchase what they choose.
2. We already have things in other states to lessen the sale of such beverages with the form of CRV tax, but it really does not make much of a difference.
Research Time!
3. New York is already expensive, and all this really does is create an advantage for big businesses because it permits the purchase of several 16 ounce bottles of sugary soda, but not one. So consumers who are already accostumed to drinking soda regularly must resort to paying more money for the product they payed less for. However, on the other hand, this "potential law" will not also try to prevent the selling of sugary juices, energy drinks, candy, diet soda, or anything of the sort. So in reality, the rich will continue to purchase the drinks while the poor must simply resort to other equally unhealthy beverages.
4. More people will begin purchasing diet soda instead for the monetary benefits of enjoying the same favorite drink at a cheaper price. Diet soda is commonly known to be a leading cause of cancer, thus, by trying to fix the prominent obesity issue in the city of New York, they are in reality unknowingly contributing to an even larger issue.
5. Although advocating the harms of the beverage is a relatively obvious approach towards dealing with the problem, the same type of approach would be evident in the case of teenagers when first granted the the right to legally drive. Although we all know the causes of driving fast and listening to loud music, we never really think those worst case scenerios would ever effect US. The same would go to diabetes and the endless people who smoke everyday regardless of the nasty images on the boxes that warn us of what may happen to our lungs in the future. We know it's true, but does that stop us from consumption? Especially with the endless ways to get around the law in New York, the law will only serve as an inconvenience to the public and ultimately solve little to nothing.
The list of points I had were endless and still continued past what I had previously mentioned. However, I was stopped halfway because it was unfortunately time to leave for lunch, but my professor did point out that he appreciated my enthusiasm.
Regardless, I did stay shortly to speak a little more to Mrs.Dougherty on the issue after class, but it was clear that both her and the professor were ready to leave as well so I cut it as short as I could.
Overall, I truly enjoyed today's seminar.

On the other hand, the rest of the day was pretty typical. I did not go to trips of any sort after the library session, instead I chatted more with my new friend Brittany and ate dinner with a group of students at the dining center. It was a lot of fun because we got a lot of laughs out of our discussions! I enjoyed being with them and invited them up to my suite to watch the NBA drafts in our living room area. While they enjoyed watching television, I just sat in my room endlessly reading my articles for class and typing away my blog.
Today was simply an enjoyable day, and tomorrow will be even better. Maroon 5 here I come!


The day began like any normal one: waking up and getting dressed, making my way to John Jay for breakfast with my friends, reviewing my notes before class, and then waiting for the incredibly slow elevator in Hamilton Hall to take me up to the 7th floor. But this day was also different: everyone in class was on their phones or laptop awaiting the Supreme Court decision on President Obama's health care bill, coined "Obamacare." About ten minutes after class began, Jasper announced the decision: the Supreme Court had decided to uphold the individual mandate with a vote of 5-4 but reveresed the medicaid clause. After the excitement about this died down, we discussed the Supreme Court cases we read in class. I'll include our talk about Obamacare from the afternoon session in this section as well.

  • Obamacare - There are two clauses to this health care bill: individual mandate and medicaid. The individual mandate clause requires everyone to have health insure or they have to pay the IRS. Obama wanted to expand medicaid based on age and amount of income. Justices have been misbehaving about this bill and making political claims about the Obama administration for months; most of the justices are on the conservative spectrum. Obamacare doesn't violate the anti-injunction act because it is not a tax.
  • Gibbons v. Ogden - The New York legislature passed a law giving a monopoly on steamship travel in New York to a group of investors. A man named Gibbons wanted to use the steamship and was given federal permission to do so, but then New York died him access. The constitution had a commerce clause that allowed the federal government to regulate commerce. The Supreme Court extended this law so that the federal government could have more power over the state when the laws conflicted. 
  • Missouri v. Holland - In 1916, the United States and Great Britain signed a Migratory Bird Act to preserve migratory birds that were considered important and could fight off harmful insects. Missouri wanted to prevent this act and said the treaty went against their 10th amendment rights because they didn't want to preserve the birds.
  • INS v. Chadha - The INS Act authorized the INS to suspend deportation of aliens that continually resided in the in United States for more than seven years. A man named Chadha traveled to Ohio as an exchange student but his student visa expired and the INS tried to deport him. Congress sought for a reverse of Chadha's case, and he won and is currently a citizen that resides in California. 
  • Heart Atlanta Motel Case - The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial discrimination in public places. Heart of Atlanta motel refused to rent rooms to black persons and the owner filed a suit claiming his 5th and 13th amendment rights were being violated. The United States fought back and countered this act. The district court ruled in favor of the United States. 
  • United States v. Nixon - Five days before President Nixon was re-elected, a group of men from Nixon's administration broke into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and it was discovered they had bugged the headquarters before. President Nixon was accused of administering the break-in and was found to have several tapes that had recordings of his meetings in the White House. The special prosecutor asked Nixon to turn over the tapes, and he refused because he claimed presidential immunity. He later turned in edited versions but was forced to turn in the original copies, even though eighteen minutes had been erased from then. An impeachment began to take place but Nixon resigned two weeks later.
  • Clinton v. New York - The Line Item Veto Act assured the president to cancel certain provisions of appropriations bills, among other concepts. President Clinton used this yet canceled the Balanced Budget Act and the Taxpayer Relief Act. The Line Item Veto Act was then called unconstitutional.
Instead of eating lunch at John Jay, I went on an R.A. trip to Chipotle with nine other HSP students to talk to Columbia student/alum R.A.'s about their experiences at Columbia, the application process, and why Columbia was the best. Unfortunately, the trip was rather disorganized and turned out to be more for people who literally knew nothing about the college application process. One girl did not know that college students have requirements for their majors and/or minors, and another was confused about the Common Application. The only source of information I got from one of the R.A.'s is that she mainly chose Columbia for their core curriculum. She said she loved the Core because "freshman year is a very foreign experience and it really helps Columbia students to become well rounded and take classes in all different subjects and interact with their peers." We also did not even eat at Chipotle, we had to wait in a long time and then trek all the way back to the stairs at Butler Library and make ourselves comfortable. Not the greatest way to spend lunch, but at least I got some information.
My peach juice and bag containing a large burrito from Chipotle
After lunch, I went back to class and took the quiz. The quiz was a lot easier than I thought it was, and when Jeffrey went over the answers in class, I was pleased to learn I had gotten all of them except for one right, and even gotten one of the bonus questions right! I feel like I'm getting a good grip on political science. After going over the quiz and getting a small lecture about Obamacare, we played another round of Constitutional Jeopardy, which was based on the Supreme Court cases we'd read. My team lost, but not by that much. At first I was really disappointed that we lost, but I cheered up when we had our meeting with Ms. L. We pretty much talked about R.A. trips and our dinner tomorrow with Columbia students. Unfortunately, we can't meet any Columbia admissions officers, but I'm really happy to see Matt again and meet the other students.

After our meeting, I had dinner with our cohort, Rowland, and our new friend Brittany! We had great fun, and now I am spending time in Morvarid's suite. Aurea and Rowland are very into the NBA draft, which I am attempting to understand. Tomorrow is the Maroon 5 concert and I'm very excited and about to make posters!

I'd like to share these two images: my roommate speaks and writes Arabic. She wrote my sister and my name's on pieces of paper! She is fantastic.

My name in English and then Arabic
My sister's name in English and then Arabic

Basketball From Morning to Night

Columbia Basketball Court
So after yesterday’s mishap with my daily routine- actually it was just me being lazy that day- I decided to utilize Columbia’s Dodge Fitness Center. I think I picked a pretty good time to work-out; not many students are up at 7 AM working a sweat. Anyway, I just showed up to the gym not knowing to do until I asked for a basketball. And low and behold I had the whole basketball court to myself! It was so nice to play by myself; to have no one watch you is definitely less nerve wrecking than having observers.

So after a nice one hour exercise session, I sadly departed with the basketball and refreshed myself for breakfast. I think I’m managing my time pretty well now; I wasn’t as tired this morning and I didn’t have to review last night’s material. My mind actually remembered the contents and even the analysis I came to the prior night. So I walked into class today relaxed and ready to participate- not that I don’t do that on a regular basis. Today’s discussion was very interesting in terms of subject. We talked about Thomas Jefferson and his political ideologies. Due to the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson is often criticized for abandoning his views of strict constructionism and pro-states’ rights. But the document that we read argued that Jefferson should not be criticized for his choice because he worked toward the bigger picture of the nation- Republicanism. I found the argument of buying Louisiana benefiting for the foundation of the republic due to the issue of national security. Self-interest is always a factor the nation should take into account, so for me Jefferson was justified in buying the territory while not appearing as a hypocrite.

After our discussion, a guest speaker, Kelly, came to talk. She majored in political science and she spoke of what she dos as a career. So far, she’s worked in Chicago for a campaign for Obama and a few people in her office ended up for the president’s administration. When she finished her talk, she had us do an exercise on how politics work from different viewpoints. She divided us into mayors of New York, businessmen, and consumers of New York. We discussed the different perspectives the three groups had on a policy the Health Department is trying to pass in New York- the sixteen ounce limit on soda and coffee. The mini debate was definitely thought-provoking; Morvarid and I turned it into a Policy debate if anything. We thought that the goal of lowering obesity standards was significant but soda limit, we feel, would not have the impact. There are too many loopholes in the proposed policy and we felt that it could be easily disregarded.

So after a stimulating discussion, we decided to head down for lunch. The dorm food really isn’t as bad as some people say it is; as long as it’s free and we can have our fill, it’s definitely fine. Once I had my fill, I went to my dorm to start early on my homework. Highlighters and naps are my new best friends during midday break.
Second Class Materials
As I headed to Butler Library, I decided to start my search of the needed materials for my research papers. Yes the picture to the left is how many books I had to look for. And the library filled with so many stacks of bookshelves I spent a good forty minutes finding the appropriate books. So far I’ve picked up, “Flawed Giant” and “Harry S Truman” by Robert Dallek, “The FDR Years” by William E. Leuchtenburg, and “Assessing the George W. Bush Washington Presidency. So much reading and research to do! I really wish I could take these back to my dorm but unfortunately Columbia university has a hold-only policy. So I can only read the books in the library and have it hold the books for me. I’ve been reading so far about FDR and it’s very interesting to know the legacy he left behind. During the time, people criticized him for his policies but now it seems people have realized the great work he has done during his time.

After a nice reading session at Butler, we met up once again with Ms. L to recap our day. Today we talked about the upcoming dinner with current Columbia students. Then we talked about a few old matters such as the textbook situation with the Constitutional Law students and going on trips with RA’s.

When our quick talk ended, we waited until the dining hall to open. As we grabbed food and ate, friends that we made slowly tricked their way to our table. The conversation lasted for two hours; laughs and jokes were made about each other, we even taught our new friend Brittany, from Texas, Californian slang. Rowland finally met the “famous” Lucas! It wasn’t surprising at all to see them converse so casually due to their mass similarities.

So before the dining hall could kick us out, Morvarid invited Adrianne, Lenny, Brittany, Rowland and me to watch the NBA draft in here dorm due to her television access. Now the moment of summer I’ve been anticipating has finally came and I am very pleased with the picks. Golden State Warriors got the needed small forward in Harrison Barnes.

Now that the draft is over, I can finally get some needed rest for tomorrow. The next day shall be jam packed with Maroon 5 in the morning and a dinner with Columbia students in the night.