Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Situation Normal

And its back to class!

Funny how thats almost a reprieve. Not to say the class isn't difficult or engaging (it is!), but this weekend was packed with rushing here and there to see this and that, so settling back into what is now routine is really comforting. I'll admit that I'm a creature of habit.

But, back to the grindstone. Our welcoming back was brief before the entire class jumped right in, continuing our previous First Amendment studies from last week. Today we looked at cases not directly in wartime, but after the two world wars. It was interesting to see how the hysteria and panic that the word “Communist” inspired in both generations of Americans and how that affected the Supreme Court. And its a great piece of legal twisting to use the due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment, which applies directly to the states, saying that each citizen has the right to equal due process with no discrimination, as a guideline for applying the other, more federally-aimed amendments to the states themselves, thus establishing the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over such cases. Very interesting!

Another little tidbit that kept catching my eye was just how much the social and political landscape affected the Court's decisions. First some background: in the cases we studied today, we saw the evolution of how the Court determines whether or not the first amendment protects the speaker's words or actions by requiring a “clear and present danger” (whatever that means) and, according to different courts at different times, an imminent threat or danger to the government. But it seems to me that hysteria can affect what exactly a “clear and present danger” really is. For example, in Gitlow v People of the State of New York in the '20s, a pamphlet published by Gitlow speaking on the inevitability of the proletariat revolution in ten years time or even possibly more is found in violation of New York law, and this conviction is upheld by the Supreme Court, although it seems to me that a revolution in ten years is hardly an imminent threat. And yet, only a few decades later, the Court rules in favor of a Klu Klux Klansman who directly threatens the government if they don't address his grievances. Though the cases seem like they should be similar enough to have similar outcomes, the later case doesn't take place in the manic hysteria following the Great War and the threat of Bolshevism from Europe that Gitlow was tried and convicted in. Food for thought.

Our afternoon class was two movies. The first was about Al Franken and Fox News' attempted suit against him; I've read Al Franken's books before, and he is quite the comedian, while still being incredibly informative and, well, right. He's a bit like John Stewart, in that he merely presents apparently contradictory information side by side and lets the reader or viewer decide which, if any, are true. The second movies was all about Dan Ellsberg, the Pentagon paper thief; while the movie itself was very interesting and I feel like I learned a lot, I feel like our instructors wanted us to try and ignore all the editorializing that was part of the movie and focus on the legal issues present throughout the film.

Dinner tonight was a lot of fun: a group of friends and I went out for sushi just across the street from Columbia's campus, and although the cost was a lot even by New York standards, the food was good and the company even better. After dinner, we grabbed dessert and chatted for almost two hours, discussing everything from future careers to Spanish weather to Subway strategy to the pros and cons of class sizes. These guys (and girls!) are a lot of fun to be around, and all of them are making this experience so much more enjoyable, especially being far from home and away from friends.

I really must get to bed, as the Constitutional Law class is heading on a fieldtrip early tomorrow morning and we are meeting with Ms. Kronenberg tomorrow night: we've a busy day laid out for us!

People's Rights

With the holiday weekend over, it was time to get back into the swing of things and do what we were sent here for. Because we had more time to digest our reading material, I felt as if I knew the material better and was able to contribute more the discussions. Before our discussion, our instructor let us know about our field trip tomorrow to New York’s District Court. We will have the opportunity to watch a live criminal trial and observe the testimonies and perhaps the cross-examinations. This is a trip I cannot wait for!

Class was very interesting today, as we devoted our time to the first amendment, specifically free speech, and whether or not it should be limited in special circumstances. In one case, Brandenburg v. United States, Brandenburg a leader of the Klu Klux Klan, held a public meeting where he threatened the government that if they continued to suppress whites in America, he would act out against the government. He was then arrested and convicted in Ohio under the Syndicalism Act which made it illegal to “advocate “crime, sabotage, violence or . . . terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.” Brandenburg appealed stating that the act violated his right to freedom of speech as well as assembly. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brandenburg stating that speech can be prohibited if it is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and it is "likely to incite or produce such action." I find this case extremely interesting because it contradicts what the Court has ruled in the past. Prior to this case, the Court believed that if there was “clear and present danger” that some act of evil could be committed, the government had the right to take away one’s right to free speech. In Abrams v. United States, Justice Holmes was alone in believing that in addition to the “clear and present danger test”, it must be proven that there is imminent danger that some evil act will occur. And here we are years later, and the court used Holmes opinion to determine whether or not Brandenburg was protected by the first amendment. By stating that speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at or inciting or producing imminent lawless action” the Supreme Court officially changed their stance on free speech.

This was neat to learn because I had always been under the impression the precedents played a pivotal role in the Court’s verdict. I believed that was the reason why in each opinion there were always references to other cases of the same nature. I guess even the finest judges of the land are allowed to change the Court’s stance…for better or worse. Personally, I don't think the Supreme Court should have added the need for imminent danger in order to prohibit one's speech because it has already been decided in other cases that it is unnecessary. The Supreme Court should have cited the precedents and used the same guild lines for free speech.

11 days left...

There are only 11 days left in this program. It's amazing how time flies.

I'm not really sure to think of it so far. This experience has been very overwhelming to me. I'm not used to being on my own, meaning I don't have a family to go to or do things with. I have friends here, but it's just so different from home. It will take some time getting used to. I would like to think that I have gotten into the rhythm of school work here, but I haven't yet. I'm really pushing myself to the limits to keep up with everything. I don't mean any of this in a negative way. It's almost like testing myself to see how much I can really do while I'm here. Will I do good, or bad? Will I take the most out of everything going on around me? Or will I not? Hopefully the answers are all positive. So far there is no doubt in my mind that I'm putting all of my effort into it.

I feel like I'm almost not prepared for the type of class I am in. There is not way I have ever written something over maybe 7 pages or even done an extensive research project like this. I have never had a class where the teacher asks you a questions and everyone responds on the issue, nor have I ever had to start the discussion so that others can comment. All of this is new to me. It makes me wonder how much shock I would have gone into if I hadn't been in this program to see what this kind of class is really like.

I honestly never thought of myself as spending so much time in the library that I actually do. The surprising thing is that I actually enjoy it. After reading became a requirement in school, I began to lose interest in it for fun. This research paper has me reading not just because I have to but because I'm curious to know more about what I need to know. It sparked a curiosity in me that I had no idea I could have in me.

I honestly haven't been feeling good these past couple days. I'm not sure if I'm worn out from the non-stop action going around all the time or if I'm getting sick. Either way, this will be a hard week to crank out a 12 page rough draft!

Making Progress

No pictures today, unfortunately.

After the crazy-busy weekend we just had, today was a nice change of pace.

Our morning session was very interesting as we discussed the remaining president’s in Fred Greenstein’s book Inventing the Job of the President, including Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Then we began discussing The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner, which focused on the thoughts going through Lincoln’s mind as he debated the issue of slavery. As we did not finish, we will be continuing our discussion tomorrow.

Towards the end of our morning session, Dr. Z gave us our outlines back along with the comments she and our TA, Pavel, had made. I found their insight to be very helpful and it gave me a lot to think about. Dr. Z wrote that I must narrow down my topic even further and after my consultation with a Columbia University librarian and a discussion with Pavel, I went back to Dr. Z to present my revised thesis. We had a very nice discussion and I have a much better understanding of what I am doing than I did on Friday when I handed in the outline. I believe I am on the right track.

This project has really been a wonderful experience so far. I am learning a lot about the different leadership styles of various United States presidents but I am also learning an invaluable academic skill – how to write a research paper. I am certain that this is a skill that I am going to need in the future and I am glad I have been given the opportunity to learn it now, rather than struggle in college.

Tomorrow seems like a wonderful day and I am very excited for our upcoming boat cruise with Mrs. Lilhanand and Mrs. Kronenberg.

And On The Thirteenth Day...

It was pretty casual.

It was an easier transition than expected today: I definitely saw myself having a very difficult day. Monday was a packed, and thus longer, day. Sleep was scarce on the night prior. And, we were thrust back into the academic world today. So, I just kind of thought that everything would take a moment to fall right back into place. But, as I said in an earlier post, I guess I'm finding my niche.

I was, however, very thrown off by my outline. Dr. Z. assessed their overall completeness over the weekend, and while I got the makeshift grade I was expecting, I found some major flaws in it after reading both Dr. Z and Pavel's comments and reading the outline myself once more. It turns out I'm coming off a little biased in a paper that is supposed to prove a point from a neutral standpoint. It's really not as major a mistake as it could have been, but it pretty much means I have to re-write all I have written so far. I can live with it, but it's just difficult being pressed for time initially and having to retrace steps.

It's certainly frustrating. But, it's also necessary. It's another something I can learn here, before I am forced to learn it in college. In retrospect, I'm gracious for it all. It'll be easier to appreciate after I catch back up, though.

On another note, I'm getting hints of some sort-of sickness. It's not quite homesickness, which implies a sort-of attachment to my home and area. I could move and be alright. It's a people-sickness. I definitely miss a handful of V.I.P.'s in my life: Barbie, my outstanding girlfriend, Andre, Jaymz, Melvin, and Jorge, some of my most incredible friends, and a few others. And, while I'm not excited to leave New York City, I'm more than excited to see some of my peoples again. It's been a while.

Time away, however, has given me time to reflect on those who do matter most, however. I've kind of realized the difference between those who tend to shape who I am as a person, and those whom I associate with but don't quite provide the everlasting contribution to my character. It's interesting to sort through the sea of people you've come to know and recognize the impact they have left. And, while I realize that I am the sum of my experiences as a whole, there are certainly more ground-breaking incidents than others that come to define me as a person.

That's not to imply that my V.I.P.'s are solely capable of helping me become... me. It would be inaccurate to claim that this incident is anything other than ground-breaking. I've learned more than I thought possible prior thus far, and I can expect even more to come. I'm all for improving myself, and as the days stroll along, I find myself more and more thankful for this program and subsequent experience.

I think I'll end my night with some reading.

And, that's something I would have never willingly said to myself, let alone to others, if it were not for this course, this college, and this cumulative experience.

Good stuff.