Is President Obama’s Executive Action on Gun Control Constitutional?

President Obama released details this week on a series of executive actions which he says will reduce gun violence. People on both sides of the issue either love it or hate it. But rather than delve into the usual arguments on gun control, I recently spoke with South Texas College of Law Constitutional expert Professor Gerald Treece on whether President Obama’s executive action on gun control is constitutionally sound.

National Apprenticeship Week – A Conversation With Houston Gulf Coast Construction and Building Trades Council Executive Secretary Paul Puente

Texas grows rapidly with Houston poised to overtake Chicago as the third largest city in the U-S. The importance of a college education is often endlessly stressed as the foundational component of a secure livelihood. Many however pursue successful careers without a traditional four-year degree in apprenticeship programs designed to train them how to build the kind of structures needed to absorb rapid population growth. November the 1st marked the beginning of National Apprentice Week, and the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents careers in construction, partnered with Pasadena ISD school counselors to help spread the word about different career opportunities for Houston’s youths. Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Paul Puente joined the Voices At Work crew live in the studio to talk about how people can find rewarding careers without a traditional four-year college degree and the mountains of debt which frequently accompany them.

A HERO Falls…


The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance went down spectacularly in flames in what would end up being almost a 24 point blowout:

Screenshot 2015-11-03 22.27.45

Needless to say this is devastating for those who fought for a local version of a non-discrimination statute for more than a year:

Others are less than sympathetic:

What next for HERO? That’s as of yet unclear as its proponents take stock of their loss and and perhaps do a little soul-searching while it’s opponents celebrate a victory clenched by what I have to admit was insurmountable messaging superiority by the time election day came.

What is clear is that this is not the last time HERO supporters will be heard from:

The defeated Houston Equal Rights Ordinance can be found here.

From a Supporter of Houston’s HERO: It’s About the Bathrooms and That’s Why It Will Probably Fail

This is in part a riposte to Angela Box (“Houston HERO: It’s About the Bathrooms, Stupid“), whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and find her quite enjoyable despite (and probably because) the fact that I don’t agree with her on…well…anything. 

I must agree with Ms. Box that Houston HERO is indeed about the bathrooms, but not in the way she thinks.

As a supporter of HERO, I also have to concede that’s actually it’s biggest problem. Some will undoubtedly stop reading here and denounce me as a bigot without bothering to consider that the biggest problem HERO’s proponents face that the conversation is still dominated by “the bathroom ordinance” narrative. Even when writing favorably, the first order of business is to insist that it’s not a “bathroom ordinance”. That may be true, but this puts my mind to the possibly apocryphal story about Lyndon Johnson spreading rumors that a campaign opponent of his was a pig-fucker. When reportedly confronted about this because it wasn’t true, the story finishes with him telling a campaign aide that he doesn’t care because he wants “to see the son of a bitch deny it”. HERO may very well not be a “bathroom ordinance”, but that its supporters keep having to deny that it is, isn’t a great sign of it’s future.

About HERO being a “bathroom ordinance”, Ms. Box writes:

But here’s where it gets sticky. You see, in every other major city in Texas with HERO, the authors of the bill removed language that everyone and their Great Aunt Sally found objectionable—the language declaring a person can choose their gender at will and pop a squat in any bathroom they choose.

By that I assume she, and other opponents of HERO object to this particular language, in paragraph b:

Screenshot 2015-11-03 16.25.53

Ms. Box’s take being an extraordinarily ham-fisted approach aside, in the ordinance passed, that language was removed yet “the bathroom ordinance” narrative persists.

That HERO’s opponents have very clearly driven how people talk about about the equal rights ordinance is, at least to me, a damning sign of the ineffectiveness of HERO’s chief proponents, and the efficacy of the opposition’s messaging, especially since there, at least to me, seemed to be no particularly stout or effective counter-effort to HERO opponents scaring the shit out of people with ads like this:

I think the ad is ludicrous scare-mongering, and that the issues, particularly when it comes to transgender people, are more complicated than ads like that allow for discussion. The hair-on-fire panic merchants who put these types of ads on are tremendously damaging to discourse, and sadly obscure with shrill whinging what should be discussed openly, plainly, and honestly.

But none of that is relevant or possible so long as the opposition has run the table on messaging almost from day one. The Texas Observer quotes University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinnghaus:

Rottinghaus said the anti-HERO campaign simply beat supporters to the punch.

“They established early on the narrative about this being about public safety as opposed to being about discrimination, and that took hold and was difficult to undo,” he said.

Consider also the fact that HERO is on the ballot in 2015, which is such an off-year for elections, it’s characterized primarily by it’s abysmal turnout rates. With that in mind, the Texas Observer has a pretty good rundown on why Prop 1 proponents have little to be hopeful, which also reports spikes in voter turnout among groups not exactly known for their warmth towards the LGBT community.

Also, an early October KHOU/KUHF poll reports 43 percent of respondents support it, 37% opposed, and 18% undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.1 percent.

Granted, that poll is a month old and HERO is in the lead outside the margin of error. However, considering the messaging dominance of the anti-HERO side, I don’t get a good feeling from knowing that 18% are undecided.

The Texas Observer headline tells of experts who say HERO’s fate is “too close to call”, but I’m more pessimistic. I’m reasonably, (and very definitely not enthusiastically) certain that Houston’s HERO will fall today.

I hope Houston proves me wrong.

UPDATE: as of 19:11 CST KHOU reports that HERO is failing by a margin of 61% to 39%.

BREAKING: Prop 1, or HERO, is failing by a margin of 61% to 39% based on early voting results. Click here for latest results:

Posted by KHOU 11 News on Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is the Case of Steven Salaita Relevant to Free Speech and Academic Freedom?

Screenshot 2015-10-17 15.02.47

Recently a friend on Facebook, who, noting my concern for the sorry state of free speech in academia despite not being in academia, challenged me to share the story of Steven Salaita, a controversial former professor of American Indian studies at Virginia Tech, as noted somewhat in CounterPunch.

The article does a poor job of describing what the case against Steven Salaita exactly was, save for a brief mention of his criticism of the “Support our Troops” slogan in a 2013 article he wrote for Salon (because of course), and a vague reference to some mean tweets by him.

I had to search elsewhere to learn that the University of Illinois board of trustees voted 8-1 to withdraw a job offer to Salaita over a series of tweets about Israel one would-be colleague criticized as “sophomoric, bombastic, or anti-semitic“:

Salaita condenses boycott-divestment-sanctions wisdom into a continuing series of sophomoric, bombastic, or anti-Semitic tweets: “UCSCdivest passes. Mark Yudoff nervously twirls his two remaining hairs, puts in an angry call to Janet Napolitano” (May 28, 2014); “10,000 students at USF call for divestment. The university dismisses it out of hand. That’s Israel-style democracy” (May 28, 2014); “Somebody just told me F.W. DeKlerk doesn’t believe Israel is an apartheid state. This is what Zionists have been reduced to” (May 28, 2014); “All of Israel’s hand-wringing about demography leads one to only one reasonable conclusion: Zionists are ineffective lovers” (May 26, 2014); “Universities are filled with faculty and admins whose primary focus is policing criticism of Israel that exceeds their stringent preferences” (May 25, 2014); “‘Israel army’ and ‘moral code’ go together like polar bears and rainforests” (May 25, 2014); “Keep BDS going! The more time Israel spends on it, the fewer resources it can devote to pillaging and plundering” (May 23, 2014); “So, how long will it be before the Israeli government starts dropping white phosphorous on American college campuses?” (May 23, 1014); “Even the most tepid overture to Palestinian humanity can result in Zionist histrionics” (May 21, 2014); “All life is sacred. Unless you’re a Zionist, for whom most life is a mere inconvenience to ethnographic supremacy” (May 20, 2014); “I fully expect the Israeli soldiers who murdered two teens in cold blood to receive a commendation or promotion” (May 20, 2014); “Understand that whenever a Zionist frets about Palestinian violence, it is a projection of his own brute psyche” (May 20, 2014); “I don’t want to hear another damn word about ‘nonviolence.’ Save it for Israel’s child-killing soldiers” (May 19, 2014); “I stopped listening at ‘dialogue’ ” (May 27, 2014). The last example here presumably advises BDS students how interested they should be in conversations with people holding different views.

More recently he has said “if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised” (July 19, 2014) and “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror” (July 18, 2014). The following day he offered a definition: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948” (July 19).

The author, Cary Nelson, also explains why he thinks this is not an issue of academic freedom:

I should add that this is not an issue of academic freedom. If Salaita were a faculty member here and he were being sanctioned for his public statements, it would be. But a campus and its faculty members have the right to consider whether, for example, a job candidate’s publications, statements to the press, social media presence, public lectures, teaching profile, and so forth suggest he or she will make a positive contribution to the department, student life, and the community as a whole.

I’m not convinced by this reasoning because the first point of attack enemies of free speech seem to turn towards is to target someone’s livelihood, to get them fired or blacklisted because of an opinion they share. “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of consequences” the enemies of free speech say, which I hate as it’s a least clear to me that threats of poverty and starvation are an end run around free speech rights and a degradation of a free speech culture which is necessary to human liberty. The most sinister form of this sentiment are the squishy, thinly veiled justifications for the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Apparently Salaita has no problem with doing what he can to make sure Israeli scholars are kept out of academia in the US. For that, there is certainly some schadenfreude in knowing he’s so incensed by what I’m sure he and his supporters undoubtedly see as a violation of his academic freedom, that he’s suing the university in federal court. Of course what some may see as a “misplaced”, “liberal obsession” with “academic freedom” (palpable air quotes courtesy of the Harvard Crimson) suddenly becomes an unwavering bedrock principle the moment someone they like faces retaliation for voicing an opinion they like. Academic freedom for me, but not for thee, it seems.

But despite Salaita’s double standards, I hope he wins because free speech is a foundational component of academic freedom and should be seen as a non-negotiable bedrock principle for the pursuit of knowledge and the open exchange of ideas, especially on American universities. This includes people who say things which might upset or offend people. However stupid I think of what he says, I don’t have to defend what Salaita says to disagree with any retaliation he faces for it.

I strongly defend free speech rights even for those I loathe, such as the authoritarian, regressive ultra-leftists who seem to have struck a sort of Hitler-Stalin pact with Islamist extremistsanti-Semites, and Holocaust deniers.

Yes, the case of Steven Salaita is relevant to free speech and academic freedom.