Saturday, July 20, 2013

Intro to The Struggle

Well, it’s here. After waiting for it for the past few years, the college application process is here for me.

I’m a relative newcomer to the game that is college admissions - I’m gonna be the first in my family to graduate high school, let alone apply to college, so to me and my family, this is all uncharted territory for us. Of course, I’ve been reading as much as I can about the process - books, magazines, blogs - but still, it’s gonna be an experience.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have help though. My parents are generally enthusiastic about it, and although they know the process of college admissions is gonna be exhausting at times, they’re generally excited about it. I’ve been on a few tours with them, and they have enjoyed it all. I have also have a few other people helping me out with the process, taking me on tours, and offering me to help me with my essays - help that I will definitely take advantage of as the process heats up.

My biggest fears is one, will I get into my top choices? Two, how will I pay for it all?

As of now, I’m still narrowing down the list of schools that I’m applying to -  the only ones that I know for sure that I’ll be applying to as of this moment are several CUNY and SUNY schools, and the University of Chicago for Early Action. Besides that, the other schools are a toss up, depending on campus visits (if I can make it) and my own research. So far, I’ve visited Yale, Columbia, UPenn, and Swarthmore - and I was impressed by most of them (I’ll be posting up reviews of each respective visit soon).

My stats are pretty decent - my overall average hovers at a 90, and my AP Scores are pretty good - I’ve taken two AP’s so far, World and U.S. History, and I’ve gotten a 5 in both. My SAT II scores are also pretty good as well, with 800’s in World and U.S. History, a 730 in Spanish, and a 630 in Literature. SAT I wise, though, my scores are average, with Critical Reading being my highest with a 690 and Math being my lowest, with a 540. Writing is in the middle. I’m studying up to improve my scores, especially my Math scores, although admittedly, I’m not that good at Math. Extracurricular wise, I’m solid in that area, having done a good amount of community service at my local police precinct and holding internships at the City Council and at a non-profit, as well doing several activities in my school, such as Moot Court/Mock Trial and the history club.

The biggest fear I have, though, is being able to pay for it all. My family is generally poor - my parents combined make about less than $36,000 for a family of four, and being that we live on New York City...well, expenses can cut deep. I want to go to the school of my dreams, but I don’t want to put myself or my family in a hole of debt, of which we can’t pay ourselves out of. Already, I’ve already swore to myself that I’m not gonna take out any loans to pay for my education - and neither will my parents (despite my dad’s offer to do so), so that means I’m gonna have to be scrambling for financial aid. This means a lot of research, and maybe a bit of luck.

So there you have it! This marks the start of the struggle that is the college application process, but also, a new stage in my life and parent’s. This also marks the start of a new blog series on Pointz of View, The Struggle, in which I will periodically blog about my experiences as the application moves on, from start to finish. It should be a fun, yet whirlwind journey. Welcome along, and thanks for joining me on the journey that is the college admissions process.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lincoln’s Response to the idea of secession in his First Inaugural Address

In honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pointz of View, over the next two days (July 2nd and July 3rd) will be posting several blogposts in regards to the Battle and the Civil War. In today's post, it will discuss the idea of secession and Lincoln's response to it in his First Inaugural Address. This was taken from an essay I did for school as part of my application for it's We the People class, in the interest of full disclosure. The class deals with the We the People competition, sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, which challenges students to become expert in the Constitution, from its foundation, philosophy and current issues under debate. Students compete at City and State championships, demonstrating their expertise in a speech and answer a series of probing questions from rotating groups of judges. In the 2012-2013 school year, the school placed first in New York State and represented it in the National tournament in Washington, D.C.

In March of 1861, the United States was anything but “united.” By the time of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, 7 states, all in the Deep South – South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas – had seceded from the United States and formed their own nation, the Confederate States of America. Sectional conflicts over slavery, perceived cultural differences, and a lack of faith that the new government would faithfully enforce existing laws regarding slavery all drove them to leave the Union. It is worth mentioning that some Northerners weren’t exactly shedding any tears at the departure of those 7 states, in fact, some of them actually urged Lincoln not to make any effort to force them back in, to just let the “erring sisters go” in peace.

It was with this in mind that Lincoln would deliver his Inauguration Speech, knowing full well that his speech would be analyzed in both the North and the South for his response to the question of secession. On that cold, windy day, in front of an unfinished Capital, Lincoln responded to both Northern and Southern advocates of secession by saying that the Oath of Office, which included the lines... 
to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” 
obligated him to preserve the Union, which he claimed was enshrined in the Constitution. As such, he declared that since the Oath of Office swore him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” to the best of his ability, any breakup of the Union under his watch would not be tolerated. The Union, ever since the States had agreed to ratify and accept the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land (the Supremacy Clause), is perpetual. As Lincoln stated in his speech, 
"In contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual." 
Throughout his speech, he claimed that when the Founding Fathers established the Constitution and sent it out for ratification, they enshrined within it the right to change the government peacefully through the ballot box, but they did not proved a right to walk away from it. They did this “in order to form a more perfect Union,” in which all states would be investing in the success and well being of the nation as a whole, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.

The prospect itself of secession would potentially make the operation of a free government impossible, because the government, and the nation at large, would be held hostage to the demands of a bitter, determined minority. Think of it this way: if a minority could secede every time it disapproved of the outcome of the vote of the majority, the result would be a swift descent into anarchy. There would still be checks on the power of the majority, but secession would not be one of them. To give the minority a permanent veto over the majority, such as the prospect of secession, would be negating self-government completely. And although the founders established a perpetual Union, they also provided for a government that would be of the people, by the people, and for the people – for all the people. Participation in, and engagement with the government, not withdrawal from it (such as secession) is the cornerstone of American Democracy.

If states wanted to ensure whatever rights they had left after they ratified the Constitution and joined the Union were respected, they could look no further than the Constitution itself – Federalism and the 10th Amendment. The 10th Amendment itself states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Here, Lincoln claimed, was all the protection those states needed, and thus, why they needed to stay in the Union, because even if Lincoln wanted to do something about slavery in those states, he couldn’t because of the 10th Amendment. Other obstacles, such as laws and U.S. Supreme Court Precedent (think Dred Scott) also stood in his way. Besides, the Ballot Box always stood at the ready for Southerners to make their voice heard. Secession, in essence, was unneeded.

The South major’s arguments to secede from the Union were the pretext of State’s Rights, and earlier movements in American History that although didn’t directly point to secession, that ultimately went in that direction. Coupled together, the South believed that they had a compelling argument for Secession. First and foremost was their belief in that they simply following in footsteps of those who fought in the American Revolution – they were breaking away from a government that they deemed to be oppressive and unresponsive to their needs. They pointed to the Declaration of Independence, which stated...

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” 

The South viewed the North’s refusal to enforce existing pro-slavery laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act, or abide by Supreme Court Decisions such as Dred Scott, as representative of the oppression directed against them and their way of life. They also resented the tariff, which in their view was just there to protect moneyed Northern Industrial interests, and Lincoln’s refusal to permit the expansion of slavery further West, as a violation and destructive to their rights to property (slaves), and closer to despotism then democracy.  

However, they also argued that in their view, the Constitution was merely a compact between the States to unite for the common good and defense, and that at time the compact could be broken if the common good was not provided for. In the South’s point of the view, the federal government established for in the Constitution was, not providing for the common good for them, with all the “unfair” anti-slavery agitation directed towards them from the North. The Federal Government, in not permitting the unrestricted expansion of slavery to the Western territories and only half-heartedly enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, was not upholding it’s side of the compact. Thus, when the Federal government does not “faithfully” uphold the compact that led to its creation in the first place, the States have the right to dissolve it by secession. In the South’s view, that is exactly what they were doing – enforcing the compact by seceding when the Federal Government failed to provide for them.

However, this was not the first time that the South, or any state, for that matter threatened to defy the Federal Government. The theory of Nullification, or that of the power of state to declare an act of the Federal Government null and void within it’s borders as unconstitutional, was also used by secessionists. South Carolina, who started the whole secessionist trend, was also a pioneer of Nullification in the 1820’s in the fight against the Tariff of 1828, which imposed a high duty on manufactured goods entering the United States. This was the first tariff explicitly passed to protect the developing industry in the United States, as well as providing funds for internal improvements. Southern opponents of the tariff called it the Tariff of Abominations, for it’s perceived detrimental effects on the Southern economy, which relied mainly on imports for most of it’s manufactured goods. Although Congress lowered it slightly in 1832, South Carolina was still not satisfied, and led by John C. Calhoun (who just happened to be Vice President at the time) published the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which argued out the theory of Nullification. However, it also spelled out the theory of secession, with Calhoun saying that if worse comes to worse, South Carolina, as a last resort, could secede in order to protect the “liberty and sovereignty” of said state. 

I disagree with the prospect that if secession on demand is unacceptable, a Union at all costs is also a “troublesome idea.” First off, a Union at all costs is what the respective states, in ratifying the Constitution before gaining admission to the country, agreed to. The preamble says it all – 
“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” 
In order to provide for the “common defense” and “promote the general welfare,” the States must stay together, in a country, United. To have them potentially secede at will, as Lincoln expounded upon in his inaugural address, would create chaos and a descent to anarchy. If the states, or the people, aren’t satisfied with the way the federal government is treating them, there are several remedies besides ending the Union to gain attention to their problems, either in the Courts or most notably, in the ballot box. If one wants to cause change, one must participate, not withdraw via secession. A Union at all costs is actually, a perpetual Union enshrined within the Constitution, one that provides liberty and justice for all – if, to use Ben Franklin’s words, people can keep it. As Lincoln stated in his address, 

“I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.”

No successful government ever provided for a clause for it’s own termination, thus implying that a Union at all costs it is, for those who signed up for it, for those who now partake in it, for those who now depend on it. A Union at all costs is a small price to stability and peace, in order to provide “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all it’s citizens. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

DOMA is Dead. Prop. 8 is Dead. Pride Month is ending on a strong note. Still gotta deal with it, though.

On Wednesday, June 26th, the Supreme Court, in a historic pair of decisions, struck down a key component of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), effectively rendering it moot, and via a procedural action, also effectively struck down California's Proposition 8, ruling that it's proponents do not have standing to defend the act if the state refused to do so. Today, acting under the instructions the Supreme Court spelled out in it's Majority Opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit lifted the stay it imposed on marriages while it was on appeal, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume. 

As a long time supporter for LGBTQ Rights, I was ecstatic when I found out about the decisions. I found out at work, and just settled into my desk after arriving from the last day of school when I received a notification on my tablet - the Supreme Court had just overturned DOMA and effectively struck down Prop. 8. As soon as I heard this, I have to admit, I shed a few tears - mainly because a huge stigma had been lifted on more then a few people I know. One of my closest friends is gay, and through my various jobs, a good number of my co-workers identified themselves as LGBTQ.

But for me, it's more then just knowing a few people that are gay that makes this a passionate issue for me. For me, it's just a basic principle of equality, freedom, and civil rights - "with liberty and justice for all." Love is a strong emotion, one of the strongest emotions there is, and to say that a few select group of people can deny attempt to deny that emotion, based on a book that was wirrten by a group of men over 2,000 years ago or through their own non-sensical thoughts is just a sad, sickening, maddening thought. Who are we, as imperfect humans, tell other whom they can love? If anybody claims they have that right, I'm sorry, but that is just plain bulls#!t.

My own mom, when we discuss this, often she says to me that she admires the LGBTQ community, because, as she puts it -
The LGBTQ people are a very strong group of people. To be able to withstand a lot, from people denying their humanity to people killing them solely because they love someone, they are very strong. I admire them, and I feel for them. Why do people treat like that? Why? There is no reason whatsoever that they should be oppressed  spat upon, solely for whom they love.
Honestly, mom, I don't know. I wish I knew, but I don't.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Citi Bike sounds Good. Expand it shall! (Part 1)

                              Those bikes! Photo of Citi Bikes outside of City Hall. Courtesy of NY Daily News

Yesterday, May 27, marked a groundbreaking day for New York City and the push to make the city a more livable place for everyone.

Citi Bike, the City's brand new and ambitious bike sharing system, debuted yesterday to those who signed up and received an annual membership key for just $95 - and over 15,000 people did, gaining access to just over 600 stations and 6,000 bikes all over Manhattan below 59th Street and selected areas of Brooklyn. Already, the number of people holding memberships has surpassed those numbers in cities where bike sharing systems have been established long before, such as Boston (which has 7,000 members and 1,000 bikes in 105 Stations), Miami Beach (which has around 2,400 members and 1,200 bikes in 100 Stations), and Minneapolis (which has around 3,750 members and 1,550 bikes in 170 Stations).  Starting this upcoming weekend, weekly and daily memberships will be available to those who aren't inclined in purchasing an annual membership (at $25 and $9.95 respectively).  

Already, Citi Bike is starting to show some early signs of resounding success. Within the first day of operation, Citi Bike reported that as of 5 p.m yesterday:

  • 6,050 Rides were taken 
  • The average duration of each ride was at 20.48 minutes
  • In total, over 13,768 miles were traveled with Citi Bikes.
  • They added 772 new members, for total of 16,463 members.
But really, what is Citi Bike intended to do? Besides being a new mode of transportation that New Yorkers can rely on, it is also intended to compliment the city's existing Mass Transit system of Buses and Trains. Especially so in Manhattan, where buses (crosstown buses being a noteworthy case) are often slow and caught up with soul crushing traffic, Citi Bike can provide a much needed alternative from slow buses or expensive cabs. The Lower East Side is another perfect example, as it has subpar subway access and relies heavily on buses to transport it to the nearest subway station. With this, the LES happens to have an abundance of Citi Bike stations, which would give them a reliable alternative from the bus to reach the subway, or in some cases, bike to work! Two quotes from Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of DOT, tell as much (Courtesy of Streetsblog New York)

Question: Will this compete with transit and bike stores?

JSK: We look at this as a real complement to the MTA system, to fill in the gaps. And there are times when it’s just quicker to get across town in particular. We have the largest bus fleet in North America and the slowest bus speeds, so this a convenient, fast, affordable way to get around town.

MRB: Also you’ve gotta remember that a lot of people own bicycles and rent them to go for long periods of time. This is really more designed for getting from Place A to Place B in 30 minutes kind of thing. Some of the bicycle stores that are worried about their business, I think in fact if they think about it, they will sell an awful lot of helmets, that’s profitable, and the more people that ride the more people think about riding, and there’s no reason to think that business will go down. I think history shows it will go up.

The fascinating thing, however, is that this was originally expected to have over 10,000 bikes in over 600+ stations, however, due to technological glitches and the effects of SuperStorm Sandy, it started out with 6,000 bikes - still an impressive number, but 4,000 short. Now, the City is planning to work with sponsors and obtain a Sandy Recovery Loan to speed up the expansion to the original number of 10,000.

However, the prospect that has gotten me really excited is the potential rollout of Citi Bike beyond the initial start up zone to upper reaches of Manhattan and most of the South Bronx, as well as the far reaches of Western Queens - including the neighborhoods of Astoria, Jackson Heights/Corona, and Forest Hills. The DOT is actually committed in expanding the program to those areas, but the political support and will needs to be there. In Part 2 of this series, I will go into detail about the potential expansion of Citi Bike to the Outer Boroughs, the benefits and potential drawbacks of said expansion, and what one must do to support the extension. Until then, hopefully I'll be able to get my annual membership key!

This is Part 1 in a Series of posts detailing the start and potential expansion and benefits of Citi Bike, NYC's brand new Bike Sharing System. Part 2 coming up soon. Stay tuned!