Monday, May 29, 2017

"There you go again, KUNM" (with apologies to Ronald Reagan)

Sigh. I give up.

Dear Ms. Baumgartel and KUNM (copying FIRE and those...extremist speakers)

While listening to the news this morning, I heard Ms. DeMarco's update on the again-labelled "extremist" speakers vs the costs incurred in Milo Yiannopolis' visit. I had thought that as you say below, such labelling of people as extremists rather than identifying their points of view violated AP style guidelines and therefore the station's own reporting rules.

As far as charging variable security fees, there is a problem with that idea of which the station is apparently unaware.  Forsyth County v Nationalist Movement, 505 US 123 (1992) pointed out that speech cannot be held hostage to the heckler's veto with movable "security fees" based on content.  I find it ironic that a station that just got a news award for good work (and I congratulate you for the award) has once again missed the boat on an important First Amendment issue.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shot off a letter to Pres. Abdallah pointing out the legal issues with security fees, which explains why Abdallah was compelled to waive the security fee and suspend part of the UNM policy. Here is a link.

I really wish the station would identify, clearly, what is station editorial content (are these the opinions of the station or of the reporter?) and what is news.

Finally, both sides can play at this game and pretty soon the world will be silent.  A colleague of mine in the gun violence prevention community recently posted a link to a National Rifle Assn. site that categorizes animal rights advocates as extremists who are, in the NRA's language, out to end civilization as we know it. Imagine if my former college classmate and now law professor Gary Francione, an outspoken iconoclast in the animal rights movement, were to be invited to speak at UNM and his visit were torpedoed by speech fees imposed by rioters from the alt-right or NRA? I wonder if the station would treat the story the same way.

We need to protect all speech, not just that which we agree with. Implicitly giving value to heckler's veto costs vs. the message of a speaker is not a great idea.

Note added later. The station stands by its reporting (see Baumgartel's comment in the KUNM link), and I stand by my objection. I guess I might "vote with my checkbook" next time KUNM has a fund drive going.

Another note added later. If you think this is nuts, check out the situation at Evergreen State College.Here is Eugene Volokh's take.

At 24 hours and 18 minutes, Sen. Thurmond 
holds the record for longest Senate filibuster. 
Now that is extreme speaking
 Finally, Ms. Baumgartel has not responded, last time I checked, to my question of what constitutes an "extreme speaker". Here's my candidate: former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond of S. Carolina, who holds the record for the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history. Now if that ain't an extreme speaker, I'm not sure what is....

Friday, May 5, 2017

Heckler's Veto at UNM, Round 2. KUNM Piles On, and Not Yet Invited Speaker Christina Hoff Sommers Responds

Police presence at Milo Yiannopoulos talk at UNM.
  Source: CFACT
 A university should be the last place on earth where one finds the suppression of free thought. That is not to say that we argue endlessly about whether the earth is round or flat, but that we tackle academic material in the spirit of free and unbiased discovery.  Well, that is the theory. In practice, universities are as political as any other institution and sometimes the politics washes over into the selective discussion of ideas. The latest battleground in the war over free speech vs. avoiding topics that make students uncomfortable and fleeing for their "safe zones" has been the University of New Mexico.

In the latest round of silliness over who are deemed acceptable invited speakers at UNM, the campus radio station KUNM's reporter Marisa Demarco weighed in on whether to invite two conservative speakers to lecture on campus saying this (in the original article, since amended as a result of my letter and one sent by Christina Hoff Sommers, both below):

"When extremist speakers come to town, free speech advocates argue it’s their right under the First Amendment to say whatever they want. But what does it cost to have an event like that on a university campus?.(snip)..The Albuquerque Journal reported UNM’s president Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban two more far-right speakers from campus, despite students calling for him to do so."

 Now Ms. Demarco has the right to her opinion and of course so does KUNM, but this was supposed to be a news article, not an editorial piece, right? That is the first problem--substituting the reporter's personal bias for actual information. The second is the message. I imagine the student government has policies in place as to how student organizations invite speakers to campus. Even confrontational or controversial speakers. But by casting the potential invitation of two conservative speakers into the context of the expense generated in protecting the appearance of someone I think is more of an agent provocateur than a scholar (Milo Yiannopolous), we muddy the water and impose the "bad company fallacy" on the argument. Furthermore, the implicit message is clear: is free speech worth the price imposed by those wielding the Heckler's Veto?  One has to wonder why the station would be so willing to pile on in the name of supporting the heckler's veto when the very existence of a public radio station relies for its protection on the First Amendment. So I emailed the station manager (Richard Towne) and New Director (Elaine Baumgartel) and reporter Demarco this spiel, albeit it might not be my best o-dark thirty rant:

Dear Mr. Towne, Ms. Baumgartel, and Ms. DeMarco.

Regarding Marisa Demarco's piece on the radio station "Yiannopoulos Security Costs Rise To $64K"
Your radio station states "The Albuquerque Journal reported UNM’s president Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban two more far-right speakers from campus, despite students calling for him to do so." (italics and boldface are mine).

The two speakers in question are Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former university professor and Ben Shapiro, who was formerly affiliated with Breitbart. Casually characterizing them as "far right" without justification certainly does not do justice to Sommers. I don't follow Mr. Shapiro or Breitbart, so will withhold extensive comments.

Anyone who has listened to Sommers (I listened to a recording of her recent talk at St. Olaf's college yesterday) needs to justify the label "far right". I find that label absurd.
The problem is that by dismissing these two people as "far right" your station attempts to poison the narrative of whether it is fair to invite these speakers to appear on campus in light of the financial costs imposed by deliberate acts of speech disruption.

Ms. Demarco's unjustified and undocumented characterizations amount to ad hominem and must be retracted. As a longtime supporter of public radio and of KUNM in particular, I expect a lot better than this from an NPR affiliate when it comes to promoting intelligent civil discourse. Especially given the importance of this topic to UNM, where the debate as to whether to ban speech that makes people uncomfortable by rioter's veto is reaching full boil.

Thank you.

Note in closing. As a response to this letter and one from Dr. Sommers, KUNM has amended its story and toned down the rhetoric considerably, excising the "far right" stuff and I thank them for that. Now Sommers is still criticized because "...She’s also known for arguing that rape culture doesn’t exist...". That too is a bit of an exaggeration when lacking a context (try this link for  context). But at least it is something readers can look up for themselves.

I wonder if KUNM would call someone like Democracy Now's Amy Goodman "far left" and go about weighing the costs of police resources against the value of hearing Amy speak (who I do listen to) if the police had to turn out in force to manage right wing goons. Maybe I am wrong, but I somehow doubt the station would treat the story the same way.

"Academic freedom cannot and will not flourish if its alleged defenders reserve their outrage only for when their ideological allies fall victim to the online mob. If progressives feel they have to torch conservative straw men before mustering up the courage to defend free inquiry, then academic freedom has a dark future indeed. Conservatives will be walled out entirely, and progressive discourse will be jammed into ever-tighter ideological spaces as a brave few liberals fight a desperate rear-guard action against the true radicals."--David French, in the National Review

Note added today, 5/6/2017. Christina Sommers response to KUNM.

Printed with permission of Dr. Sommers.

Dear Ms Baumgartel, 

  As an NPR affiliate, I think it is important for KUNM to amend the recent story by Marisa DeMarco that portrays Ben Shapiro and Me as right-wing extremists. 

For the record, Ben Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew and mainstream conservative. He famously quit his job at Breitbart because of its association with the Trump campaign. He was then targeted by a virulent alt-right anti-Semitic campaign. According to a 2016 report on "The Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists" by the Anti-Defamation League, the biggest target by far was Ben Shapiro.

I am a registered Democrat and a feminist. I am critical of radical third-wave feminism for its carelessness with facts and it's penchant for moral panic. Other liberal feminist scholars such as Wendy Kaminer and Laura Kipnis share my view.  Even the leading anti-sexual violence group RAINN has been critical of the concept of rape culture. In all my speeches and articles I make it clear that sexual assault is a serious problem on campus. But serious problems don't get solved by hyperbole.

Your report mentions that the president of UNM Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban Ben and me "despite students calling him to do so." Which students? How many were there?
In fact, the protest was organized by a small group with a an odd agenda.

What saddens me most about this news story isn't the misleading portrayal of Ben and me. The story conveys the idea that free speech is just not worth the money.  That may not have been Ms. Demarco's intention. But when she updates the story again, I would suggest getting a quotation from the ACLU or FIRE about what is at stake.

Sincerely yours, 
Christina Sommers
Resident Scholar
American Enterprise Institute

Heckler's Veto, Round 1.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Heckler's Veto v Free Speech

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.

Based on the 4/25/2017 Journal article, I see that interim UNM President Abdallah is standing up for free academic discourse rather than supporting the notion of banning speech based on its point of view. That is excellent news. The University is here to expose us to difficult ideas, not to shield us from them.  This decision helps cement that core value.

I have followed Dr. Christina Sommer's work since the mid 1990's ("Who Stole Feminism", etc) in the context of events that were unfolding at the University of Hawaii during the time I was on the graduate faculty in earth sciences and on the Board of Directors of the faculty labor union. Then, like now, there was pushback against ideas some found uncomfortable. For student groups to protest a visit by Dr. Sommers, a philosophy scholar first at Clark University and now at the American Enterprise Institute, shows a glaring lack of understanding of academic freedom and indifference to the value of listening to intelligently stated, if opposing, views.

As far as Mr. Ben Shapiro, he is not an academic like Sommers but his point of view would be as relevant on campus as anyone else from the media. The media, including organizations like Breitbart that have contributed to the polarizing of opinion, exerts a powerful influence on American politics. We need to understand the media, how it works, and how to best refute ideas that only survive in their own political bubble. That said, I don’t think the University is compelled, at least under the banner of academic freedom, to invite someone if their only credentials are those of an agent provocateur.

I do hope that these visits can occur without the violent conduct that has occurred elsewhere under the excuse of hurt feelings. As Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff has adroitly stated, "Holding one person's expression hostage to the 'feelings' of another can only lead to arbitrary censorship and, ultimately, silence."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Solving the Immigration Problem: A Modest Proposal

 I will shortly expound on an idea of a proposal to Congress, considered after reading several letters to the editor, including this one. I am becoming convinced that we should not look at what is merely expedient or compassionate or engage in short-term thinking; we need to get to the heart of the matter: preserving America as we know it. The actions taken by our predecessors in the immigration regulatory system as far as keeping out the Chinese, “paupers and mental defectives”, and limiting immigration, via strict quotas, from countries we thought were not in keeping with our American identity, were undoubtedly carried out with "thought and reasoning" as discussed by Ms. Jones.

Therefore, we should not be debating whether to raise taxes to cover the costs of illegal immigrants using our health care or educational systems or paying for those who found their way into our criminal justice system. We much go farther. We need to worry about rebuilding America and our industries and heartland. Lastly, if we are truly to worry about Making America Great Again and Putting America First, we must concentrate all our efforts on how to preserve our Republic in this time of illegal immigrant crisis. Therefore, I give you, the proposed Robert Paul Prager Memorial Bill for the Preservation of the Homeland:


Moved by the understanding that the security and long term stability of the American Homeland is the essential condition for the continued existence of the American people, and inspired by the inflexible determination to ensure the existence of the American nation for all time, Congress shall adopt the following law:

Article 1

Marriages between illegal aliens and Americans are strictly prohibited. Marriages nevertheless concluded are invalid, even if concluded abroad to circumvent this law.  Annulment proceedings can be initiated only by a Federal prosecutor.

Article 2

Extramarital relations between Illegals and Americans are forbidden.

Article 3

Illegals present here may not employ in their households female Americans who are under 45 years old.

Article 4

Illegals are forbidden to fly the American flag. They are, on the other hand, permitted to display the colors of their national origin. The exercise of this right is protected by the law.

Article 5

Any person who violates the prohibition under Article 1 will be punished with prison with hard labor.

A male who violates the prohibition under Article 2 will be punished with prison or prison with hard labor.

Any person violating the provisions under Articles 3 or 4 will be punished with prison with hard labor for up to one year and a fine, or with one or the other of these penalties.

Article 6

The Attorney General, in co-ordination with the Dept. of Homeland Security, will issue the legal and administrative regulations required to implement and complete this law.

Article 7

The law takes effect on the day following promulgation, except for Article 3, which goes into force one year from the date of issue.

American Citizenship Law

Article 1

A citizen of the United States is a person who enjoys the protection of the American Government and who in consequence has specific obligations toward it.

The status of citizenship is acquired in accordance with the provisions of the American Citizenship Law.

Article 2

A U.S. citizen is of American or related blood, and proves by his conduct that he is willing and fit to faithfully serve the American people and Homeland.

American citizenship is acquired through the granting of an American citizenship certificate.

The American citizen is the sole bearer of full political rights in accordance with the law.

Article 3

The Attorney General, in co-ordination with the Dept. of Homeland Security, will issue the legal and administrative orders required to implement and complete this law.

Seem outlandish? A model for this approach can be found here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Proposal for a Workable Firearms Transfer Background Check Law

A couple of us have thought of a background check proposal that might accomplish most or all of what we really want but with far less acrimony. So here is an idea if this is to be revisited again and assuming for the moment that the present bills are not resurrected. I’ve stolen some ideas from a colleague (with thanks) but modified them with my own additions, so any rotten fruit should be thrown at me alone. Here would be the basis of the law.

1. It is of material and social benefit to society to verify that a person unknown to you is not a prohibited person before selling or transferring to them a firearm. (the estimated cost to society of a homicide and resulting legal, health care, and incarceration issues are estimated to be over a million dollars  ).

2. The best way to verify that a stranger is not a prohibited person is through a background check via a law enforcement agency that collects all the relevant records, i.e., the FBI's NICS system or equivalent. Because it is virtually impossible to enforce mandatory background checks between private parties short of a continuous sting operation or universal registration (for which the political will is simply not present), the best way to do this is via encouragement rather than punitive means.

3. Therefore, the State of New Mexico should create the mechanism whereby any private party selling or transferring a gun can voluntarily obtain a free, instant background check through the State (perhaps the Dept. of Public Safety, DPS) or a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). Details to be worked out and could entail:

a. A full tax credit or refund from the State of New Mexico for fees incurred if this is done at an FFL.
b. New Mexico can become a "point of contact state" like Nevada under its old rules that were
repealed when its present unworkable, Everytown for Gun Safety law was adopted. The DPS and Attorney General could research how Nevada did this and initiate a similar system run out of DPS. This could even be researched to see if it could be done online.

4. If money is an issue, some sort of cost share out of general funds and a 1% excise tax on ammunition could be considered.

5. If gun control advocates need a pound of flesh, the bill could indicate that the background check provides full immunity to the seller if the person getting the gun turns out to have prohibited person status whereas in the case of a sale without a free background check, the seller would entail legal responsibility for an illegal sale, especially if the gun is used in a crime.

The bottom line is this should be cooperative. The Everytown battle has been combative. If the public wants a solution, we need to think outside the box. I really think if we did this with local folks rather than bare knuckle out of state lobbyists, we might get somewhere.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Giffords urges N.M. lawmakers to ‘come together’ on gun control--but will they compromise on language?

Giffords urges N.M. lawmakers to ‘come together’ on gun control, Santa Fe New Mexican

You thought Sisyphus had it tough? 
Try negotiating a gun bill.
Published in the Los Alamos Monitor.
 I just want to clarify a couple things in response to Jody Benson's letter as well as thank her for her engagement on the topic (

I did not say that we should reject House Bill 50. What I said was the original and present wording was problematic. There is still plenty of time in this legislative session to find some common ground on this bill and amend it so it has bipartisan and gun owner support. Indeed, John Horne is right in that enforcement of this bill, should it become law, would be next to impossible. The strength of this bill would be to get buy-in from gun owners so they don't take a chance on selling to a potential prohibited person. That buy in is not forthcoming the way this bill is going forward.

To excerpt from my own essay (, what I said was "...provisions in the bill put onerous constraints on temporary transfers and casual sales between law abiding people who know and can vet each other without government oversight. If we expect any sort of bipartisan support for this bill, and for the Governor to sign it, some "common sense" exemptions to the background check provisions will be needed...I think a highly modified version of the pre-filed bills could become law and could make incremental but measurable reductions in gun violence while not making life miserable for law abiding citizens."

My understanding is that the political sausage is still being made with this bill and there is hope that a bill will come out of this legislative session with more than one-sided support. A requirement to obtain a background check when selling a gun to a stranger is not a mortal wound to the Second Amendment. Neither is it a silver bullet; efforts to make this bill as stringent as possible will provide little additional return on the investment except for a bumper crop of acrimony from gun owners.

If I have a major criticism in how this topic has been handed at the Legislature, it is that even a casual study of the history of this bill shows that it was largely written (or ghost-written) by outside lobbyists (Everytown for Gun Safety). The bill is almost identical to legislation that Everytown barely passed in Nevada (where it has been found to be unworkable and on hold due to the bill writer's lack of familiarity with Nevada's relationship to the Federal background check system) and saw rejected in Maine. I wonder if we would have been better off if we wrote a background check bill ourselves, being more sensitive to local and regional issues and attempting to work across party lines. Perhaps problems with wording and scope could have been handled in advance if outside lobbying forces were not putting such a heavy thumb on the scales (data on campaign contributions are available online with the Secretary of State).

The potentially sad part of this discussion could be that if this bill is passed in onerous form, or if it fails entirely by votes or veto, the future discussions will be focused on acrimonious debates as to who is at fault for polarizing the issue, rather than on building a consensus discussion of how to make New Mexico a safer place to live while preserving New Mexico's cultural traditions of firearms ownership and enjoyment. Meanwhile, the senseless shootings in places like Albuquerque will continue.

I hope the NRA and Everytown, as well as our legislators, are listening.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Guns and Mental Health: The Albuquerque Journal Blows It

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.

Your 2-18-17 editorial, "Senate, House hand guns to seriously mentally ill" was one of the more unfair pieces I have read in what usually is a pretty grounded newspaper. The notion that the National Rifle Association and Sen. Charles Grassley unleashed a horde of unbalanced and armed people onto the American public for self serving reasons is not grounded in facts.

As reported by the Washington Post and The Guardian, many reputable organizations opposed the Obama executive order requiring the Social Security Administration to report people requiring financial management oversight to the National Instant Background Check (NICS) system. These included the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for Mental Health, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, and the federal government’s own advisory group, the National Council on Disability. All of these organizations, a total of 23, criticized this executive order, as written, for two glaring problems.

One, there was little if any due process built into the reporting requirements. The executive order would have stripped people of their Second Amendment rights and forced them to fight to get them back.

Secondly, there was no evidence that the vast majority of those who would be reported to the NICS list by the Social Security Administration would be dangerous if allowed to keep guns. As Professor  Jeffrey Swanson, a leading researcher on gun violence and mental health at Duke University stated, “The NRA, on this thing, has found itself on the side of science,”

Gun violence prevention is a critical problem in New Mexico. Getting it right rather than going off half-cocked is truly important.

ACLU: Gun Laws Should Be Fair