Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 12.1

  1. In a split 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs on the grounds of “commonality” which, in the Supreme Court’s opinion was lacking for a million and a half of women who wanted to sue Wal-Mart based on gender oppression and pay discrimination. Since the enormous scale of Dukes v. Wal-Mart had a stake in issues beyond Wal-Mart’s employment practices, the Supreme Court decision could affect the political and social life, not to mention the trial of an entire culture of sexism which influenced many decisions across the company. A crucial episode in the ruling was the misclassification of the case by the Supreme Court, which saw women’s additional demand for pay as belonging to a b(3) claim, opposed to a b(2) claim that would allow the plaintiffs to seek injunctive or declaratory relief. Many questions could be raised: for example, how could Justice Scalia refer to Wal-Mart corporate literature and be sure, in front of a 1,5 million women, that no discrimination could occur if the corporate policy forbade it? By making “commonality” central to their ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the women failed to meet the requirement for Rule 23, since there appeared to be no common solution to solve the common problem in one stroke. Because of situational differences there was “no glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together”, therefore the individual cases of women could not be litigated all at once.

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 11.1

  1. In my opinion, there are two major points that highlight why court system is better suited to protect the individual in comparison with other branches of the government: the duality of the court system and its election procedure that leaves the judicial branch independent of the political climate of the time. When we take the Miranda v. Arizona case, we can see how the duality of the U.S. court system helped protect the constitutional rights of Ernesto Miranda who was convicted and sentenced based on an evidence that was obtained through a violation of the Fifth and Six Amendments. While the issue of guilt or innocence was a matter of the state court, the federal court addressed the constitutional questions raised by Miranda trial. 
  2. If the government is set up to protect the “faculties” of men, we should not be surprised that one of the branches of the government seems to fail to carry the notion of “democracy”. Following the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, only supported by less than a fifth of the U.S. population, has shaped the Supreme Court by appointing 3 conservative-wing candidates who passed through a Republican Senate. Since the Justices are appointed for life, we are bound to see a conservative Supreme Court that carries the vision of the Republican Party and the capitalist elites that supports it. If we further look at the diversity within the court system, we can easily find the overwhelming majority of courts on federal and state level consists of white people that might not have the insight into the lives of minorities. 

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 13.1

  1. Martin Luther King makes a clear distinction between laws and morals: he argues that it is immoral to obey an unjust law, a law that is out of harmony with the moral law. An unjust law is the one that degrades human personality, whereas a just law is the law that uplifts the personality. King gives an example of an unjust law by using segregation laws that give both, the segregator and the segregated, false feelings of superiority and inferiority respectively. The segregated are diminished to the level of things, not people, which is not only economically and sociologically unsound, but also morally wrong.
  2. The difference between just and unjust laws is crucial – just laws make societies inclusive and beneficial to individuals, unjust laws distort reality and damage personality. Without the knowledge of morals and just laws that are based on morals, an individual would easily be swayed in wrong directions, since their lives are not guided by universal principles and are out of harmony with the moral law. Culture, shaped by just laws, is the mirror of politics – Civil Rights groups and lawmakers are affecting the culture of a country as well as politics. Laws, culture, and politics are closely intertwined and, when combined, give us a worldview, a lens through which we see the society, the individual, the interactions between the two and the moral content.
  3. I believe that New York State Clean Indoor Air Act could be seen as a just law – it prohibited smoking and vaping in most public areas thereby protecting the health and well-being of non-smokers and giving smokers an opportunity to see their habit as harmful. On the other side of moral life is the recently passed voting law in the state of Georgia – the law was passed by Republicans in response to Democratic Party victories in presidential and Senate elections. By imposing strict and, sometimes, absurd restrictions and regulations on the voting process, the Republicans are aiming at getting their power and influence back while ignoring that their actions are morally wrong and instill a feeling of inferiority in those, who dared to vote Democratic in a Republican state. 

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 9.1

  1. To minimize conflicts between religious groups and/or ethnic minorities that easily led to wars in Europe, the First Amendment forbade a creation of state-sponsored religion in the United States – that freedom is called “Establishment clause”. The “Lemon test”, consisting of three criteria, establishes whether a government action, such as a law, will promote a religious practice. For a law to pass the Lemon test, it should be neutral in its effects on religion, it must have a secular purpose and it should not entail an extensive effort on part of government to police the boundary between the government and religion.
  2. When defined as a “form of symbolic speech”, burning of the U.S. flag is indeed protected by the First Amendment – in 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, it was established that the “desecration of a venerated object” law was unconstitutional because it interfered with the freedom of speech.
  3. When someone says, “I’m taking the Fifth” that means they choose to remain silent and protect themselves from self-incrimination. Under the Fifth Amendment’s protection, people have the right to give no evidence in court or to law enforcement officers that would constitute guilt or responsibility for a crime. Furthermore, the silence observed will not constitute guilt or imply that the person is guilty, since an innocent person would testify. 

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 9.2

  1. While a traditional war would be declared and led against a specific entity, such as an enemy or a territory, the war on “terror”, in P. Williams’ view, was a war of the mind. The newness of that war was that no enemy was defined, which made it possible to wage a war against anybody who made America or Americans feel afraid. State of panic and fear that followed the events of September 2001 was such that fear, not facts, was a predominant subject of discourse and most Americans did not see war, torture, and human rights abuse as unusual or wrong.
  2. Surveilling suspects using roving wiretaps was aimed at technologically-savvy terrorists who could use multiple media channels to remain as invisible as possible and to make tracing them complicated. However, this practice could violate the First and the Fifth Amendments in the following way. Wiretapping assumes that a suspect will come into contact with other people and, through their communication, provide the necessary proof of their guilt. Since the information collected makes little sense out of context, innocent people’s privacy, freedom of expression and protection from self-incrimination will be at risk. If we think about it – it is a direct violation of the Bill of Rights: today an innocent person is talking to a stranger or an acquaintance, tomorrow – they are a suspect in an investigation through no fault of their own.
  3. “Sneak and Peek” warrants seem to directly violate the Fourth Amendment which grants people security in their homes and provides for protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. While “Sneak and Peek” warrants might be an indispensable tool for fighting terrorism, law enforcement officers will have an unconstitutional way of conducting investigations on minor crimes. 

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 7.1

  1. The primary difference between federal, unitary and confederation systems is that a federal system presupposes two layers of government (state and federal) with different functions. Both governments are elected by the people and derive their authority from the public, therefore, making citizens directly involved in politics and socio-economic issues. Whereas a unitary system relies on a strong national government and a confederate system provides for concentration of power in the states, a federation rests on the division of power between the states and the federal government, both elected by the people.
  2. The system of division of power is designed to check and balance three branches of the government: the legislative (the Congress, comprised of the Senate and the House), the executive (the President), and judicial (the courts). The three branches are interdependent and work in unison to provide for a smooth operation and to ensure that none of the branches get too powerful: the president could veto Congress’ decision, the Congress approves the Supreme Court judges, who, in turn, check the power of Congress to enact laws or balances the executive power. 
  3. Being a transport and cultural hub, New York City was one of the first cities in the U.S. to experience the disastrous effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. While federal government was minimizing the threat of the disease, provided no testing equipment and advised no enforcement of social distancing rules, people in New York City were getting sick and dying from the virus. The delayed response in containing and/or isolating the sick was largely due to CDC’s lack of interest in investigating the matter. The federal government did not see the threat but preferred to view it as a waste of resources – later, when it was obvious that the Covid-19 pandemic has a grip on New York City, the CDC was issuing memos that did nothing but confuse the people who believed that the virus could be spreading through surfaces. The state authorities, lacking proper resources and power, spend numerous days infighting or arguing with the federal government over the severity of the situation, delaying the response further and showing us how the actions of the federal authorities have a direct effect on the state.

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 4.1

  1. It seems that both articles see social classes through income distribution and separate the public into 5 classes: lower, working, middle, upper-middle, and upper. While the New Yorker article used median household income for their argument, the Gallup article focused on subjective social class, i.e., given 5 classes, what class would people assign themselves to.
  2. After I picked Myrtle-Wyckoff station on the L train, I saw a median reading of $37,885 which splits my neighborhood into working class people and people that consider themselves to be a part of middle class. The statistics used in New Yorker article is 10 years old, but it still holds – our neighborhood Is homogenous without areas of extreme wealth or poverty. Now, I believe the map might not be as accurate now since certain station like Dekalb Ave and Jefferson Street are marketed higher due to their proximity to the city or entertainment venues. 
  3. After spending some time studying the map, I am sure that the upper class resides mostly in Manhattan, specifically near transportation hubs or in areas with picturesque views. Lower- and working-class people tend to live further back from the city centers while middle and upper middle class inhabits culturally significant or trendy areas of New York City.

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 4.2

  1. Michael Parenti makes a difference between owners and employees in the following way: on one side of the argument, we have people who must earn a living by selling their labor, on the other side we have owners, a category where we see small business owners and wealthy corporate elites. It seems that, in a nutshell, the difference could be best expressed by a quote from the text: “The secret to great wealth is not to work hard but to have others work hard for you”.  If we take an individual who owns and operates a small plant store where you can get plants, plant supplies and other somewhat-related decorative elements, the individual is viewed by Parenti as a struggling small business owner, while the employees at that store, be it a register person, a plant expert, or a store manager, have to earn their living by being employed by the owner.
  2. Adam Smith’s quote views labor as an essential activity, without which the market would not exist – labor not only transforms timber into chairs but allows for what is heralded as benefits of capitalism – surplus value, profits, and benefits. Smith made it clear, that a price itself did not explain the value of a commodity – for a true estimate, one had to look at the amount and quality of labor that the production of a commodity required.
  3. Paul Heideman devotes a significant part of his essay to make a distinction between how some socialists and some liberals see class and put it in a theoretical framework. I found the essay very profound and insightful, but the decision to view (or not) class as identity is far from an easy one. If we take notions of class out of a scientific framework and apply it to mass politics, mix it with marketing, market and social media, the definition of class as well as its application starts crossing borders. After my emigration, freelance and full-time jobs as well as income improvement and college experience, I found some utility in identifying with working and, later and sometimes, with middle class in my socio-cultural views and preferences. While I could accept that there is no need for a class identity, the reality that I live begs to differ: my professional ability is tied to my professional working circle and income, which dictates what I eat, where I live and what I can do with my leisure time. Through my professional or leisure activities I associate with people that have similar interests and fall into an income range that presupposes those activities – as socialist as it sounds, what I have indeed determines what I get. 
  4. I see the “close form of dependency” as a lip service to the worker’s exploitation by a managerial structure. Somehow Heideman finds it sensible to talk about interdependency and forget about surplus value that is extracted by the corporation from someone else’s labor, not to mention the problem of income inequality which has recently worsened and have become a global political, not just economic, issue. The wording itself makes me doubtful – when we talk about people, the mechanism of “dependency” implies some common sense, where one would be invested in the well-being of the other. It is not a hard task to envision this so-called dependency in terms of idealism that is indispensable for a handful of progressive corporations and corporate propaganda, yet I believe that Covid-19 pandemic has showed us whether corporations have public interest as one of their objectives. A brave idea that employees could, if they really tried, wield power, and check/balance the management seems to find more application in mutual abuse – corporations underpay and overwork employees because of rigid age-old hierarchy structures while employees underperform and have vague ideas about their socioeconomic standing, blowing steam online or in standalone protests that most people find hard to relate to.

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 5.2

  1. To answer a question “How does a capitalist remain wealthy” we must look at the general formula of capital: M-C-M`. In this formula, a capitalist starts from a very comfortable position of having an abundance of money that is not necessary for their survival. That money (M) could buy a commodity (C) which will later bring more capital by profiteering from surplus labor and, naturally, from surplus value (M`). Since money is never a question for a capitalist when there is profit to be made, the reasonable thing to do is to acquire as many commodities as possible and abuse the concept of surplus value while providing people with commodities without having to work for it. Taking into consideration the fact that there is an interdependent relationship between the capitalists and the workers and that most media are owned by the wealthy, the capitalists have managed to keep their favorable reputation and, when the worst happens, have figured out the ways to shift the responsibility onto others. 

Nikita Vasilyev – D.B. 5.3

  1. The most impressive statistic for me was the fact that 90 percent of American families have little or no net assets. I haven’t given enough thought to debts and mortgages since those topics are not the most popular – it is absolutely demoralizing to be aware of the fact that most part of the day the capitalist gets your labor for free and, on top of that, a chunk of your paycheck goes towards settling debt with another capitalist. It seems that the institution of family that presupposes an attempt to achieve stability, safety and prosperity is under severe pressure from the capitalist class, since the ideals of family are still propagated in the media and advertising while the reality is such that the American Dream is not so easily achievable. 
  2. 2a) Wealth inequalities provide for one-sided socio-economic influence – the capitalists wield plenty of social/political power which affords them enrichment opportunities. They use those opportunities without batting an eye while promoting “happiness for everybody”. We can see this propaganda in media and entertainment, where the common story of members of the working class that imagine themselves to be capitalists is simple – all they have to do is purchase a commodity (education) and then sell it later for more money to a potential employer who, impressed with a candidate’s background, will give them a job. This scenario does not always work – when trying to implement M-C-M`, the working-class member realizes that they weren’t the only one in the exchange since the corporation (University) sold them a commodity that they got for free while using the surplus labor from the academic staff. 2b) Another implication Is that working class is constantly pressured to compete for a job to survive, however even getting a job does not guarantee long term employment or success. Corporations, that use downsizing, speedups and downgrading to make profit, have little concern for their employees – they could find cheaper labor elsewhere and keep making profit. We can see this clearly in the clothing industry, where companies, pressured to adjust their sweatshop practices in poorer countries, reversed the media attention to priding themselves on involvement into sustainable production and the involvement in worker’s well-being. Considering a possibility, where the same group of capitalists owned the clothing company and the media, all that needed to happen was a phone call.