Alex Jones

Randolph Lewis, associate professor in American Studies, works to understand the real vulnerabilities shaping the anti-surveillance bravado of political media figures such as Alex Jones and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

The department of anthropology presented a talk Monday afternoon at the Student Activities Center led by Lewis and anthropology assistant professor Craig Campbell, regarding Jones and Paul.

Part of Campbell’s research involves studying photography as surveillance, especially in Soviet archives where Russians photographed and documented the indigenous peoples of Siberia beginning in the late 1800s. 

“Even though Soviet communism claimed to be anti-colonial, it was in many ways extending a colonial project in Siberia,” Campbell said. “Production of photographs in a socialist colonial context is part of a violent scopic regime that objectifies, scrutinizes and ultimately disempowers those people it photographs.”

Campbell said surveillance as an extension and articulation of state power has been central to most theories of ethnographic and expeditionary photography, especially in the colonial context.

Lewis said concerns about surveillance looking into our intimate sphere is coming from Texas where Paul, a first-term U.S. senator, grew up. Lewis said Paul is an ally of Jones, who is a kind of dystopian, anti-totalitarian and liberty extremist who has produced more than 30 DVDs on political topics and garnered nearly three million listeners at his peak on 60 different radio stations in the country.

“I see them as Texas-based, gun-toting, whole-foods warriors,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of military bravado and luster. They’re very passionate about the second amendment and they see themselves as rugged individualists.”

Lewis said their concerns regarding public exposure issues are part of a broader worldview in which they are really worried about purifying water, adopting silver as currency, nutrition supplements and non-genetically modified food. He said Jones and his followers accuse the TSA of hiring pedophiles who have been defrocked to run the scanner machines at airports. 

Jones publicly speaks about the potential for domestic use of drones. Lewis says Jones is worried about drones that can take any random protester out of the street, and their abilities to look into people’s intimate spheres is a major violation.

“These are guys that are easy to dismiss,” Lewis said. “I would say Alex Jones is one of the most important political media figures in the country that most people have never heard of. His circle of Texas libertarians is maybe the most important zone of resistance to surveillance culture right now outside of [American Civil Liberties Union] and other more sober enterprises.”

Graduate student Paul Gansky said he thinks TSA is kind of part and parcel of a larger culture of fear around airplanes in general.

“There’s only going to be a certain kind of group that will be flying,” Gansky said, “and I think its just really odd that this is the technology that is freaking people out and it’s not other forms of surveillance that have been going on for a long time.”

A resolution that recommends a new policy to lower textbook costs remains tabled in the University’s Senate of College Councils.

In the last session of the Texas Legislature, representatives passed House Bill 33, legally requiring universities and bookstores to set a deadline for professors to turn in course material lists at least 30 days before classes start. Student senate representatives are calling for further university policy to reduce course material costs.

SR 1111 is a resolution proposed by three Senate representatives that instead pushes for a deadline 30 days before registration periods. The resolution was first introduced on Jan. 19 but has been tabled for a month.

Obtaining lists before the registration period would allow bookstores to compete for better prices and buy more books during the buy back period, making it more beneficial for students, said political communications junior Alex Jones, at-large Senate representative and one of the authors of the bill.

“The deadline before registration would provide students with course material costs for textbooks adopted by different professors teaching the same course,” Jones said. “In trying times, textbook prices could be a deciding factor when registering for a class.”

James Kielty, chief financial officer for the University Co-op, said the bookstore has been working with provosts and the Office of the Registrar in the last couple of months to ensure better textbook prices for students.

The Co-op spent time speaking to students about the resolution passed last year and feels an earlier deadline is beneficial to students, he said.

“The real advantage would be to get book lists for courses in April before the buy back period, because that is where we can save students money,” he said. “If we get book adoption lists for courses earlier, it allows us to buy back books from students and have them on our shelves for the next semester.”

Kielty said it is detrimental to students when professors do not adopt their book list for courses and provide these to the Co-op in a timely manner because it leaves the students with only new books on the shelves from which to pick.

The Texas State University bookstore already employs this system and requires professors to submit book adoption lists for the following semester by a set date, said Douglas Tatsch, assistant manager of the University Bookstore at Texas State.

He said the bookstore asks professors to turn in the book adoptions by March 1 for the fall semester to prepare for the buy back period and figure out how many new books will need to be ordered.

“The set deadline does not have an impact on prices as those are set by the publisher, but it certainly does give us a better chance to collect used books that we buy back from students,” Tatsch said. “That is when the price break can help students.”

Janet Staiger, radio-television-film professor and chair of the Faculty Council’s Education Policy Committee, said the committee would review what student government organizations were developing, since the committee members were very concerned about rising costs of books and other course materials, according to the minutes of the January council meeting.

Jones said he thinks the resolution will make it onto the floor for vote at Senate’s general assembly meeting tomorrow night.

“The Faculty Council said they were open to discussion and wanted to hear the student voice,” he said. “Because the process is already taking place, we wanted to present the ideas we think can be implemented as a recommendation from the students.”

Printed on Thursday, February 23, 2012 as: Senate plans may decrease textbook costs at bookstores

Former Student Government Presidental candidate Yaman Desai stands outside the room where the appellate court hearing, intended to review evidence that his campaign violated student government rules, is about to be held Monday night. Desai and his running mate resigned after evidence surfaced that Desai had in fact asked Ainee Athar via email to lie in order to obtain information about the Maddison Gardner campaign.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government presidential candidate Yaman Desai and running mate Whitney Langston dropped out of the election Monday after the campaign’s ethics came into question by the Election Supervisory Board.

The board disqualified Desai’s campaign Monday afternoon for violating the election code and committing fraud by misrepresenting itself to the web designer for opponent Madison Gardner’s campaign in an attempt to obtain incriminating information about the Gardner campaign’s financial records. Desai’s campaign immediately filed an appeal of the board’s decision to the SG appellate court, which heard their case Monday night.

Emails obtained by The Daily Texan demonstrate that Desai asked one of his campaign agents to lie in order to get the information. After the Texan described the content of the emails to the appellate court seeking clarification, Desai withdrew his appeal.

In a Feb. 15 email from Desai, he tells international relations and global studies senior Ainee Athar to ask James Skidmore, a Gardner campaign web designer, for any records that could prove Gardner had violated the rules by receiving professional services without reporting the cost in his financial disclosures. Desai told Athar he needed proof to incriminate Gardner later on that day and to lie about her identity to get Skidmore to release information if necessary.

“You should be able to call them and just ask for the info,” Desai said in the email. “If that doesn’t work, we might be able to ask the ESB to look into it and force Madison to produce some record. Try calling and saying that you’re with Madison’s team/a friend and he asked you to call because he needs a copy of the invoice and you need it sent to you so you can print it. It’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s worth a try.”

Under the original complaint to the board, Gardner campaign manager Alex Jones stated that Athar identified herself to Skidmore as an “election supervisory representative.” During the hearing, and before the emails were obtained, Desai and Langston said Athar presented herself as an agent for their campaign without their consent.

Langston and Desai said they had never met Athar before Sunday, so they should not be held responsible for things she did before she was an agent of the campaign.

In Athar’s email reply to Desai on Feb. 15, she said she would not lie to the web designer because it would get Desai in trouble.

Athar said she was told by Desai not to come to the hearing on Monday. She said she was shocked when she heard Desai and Langston lied about her involvement in the campaign and attempted to pin the blame on her. She said she had no intention of identifying herself as part of the supervisory board but instead thought “election supervisory representative” was her title for Desai’s team.

“If I had been told to go to the hearing I would have been willing to go [there] and say that this was something that I did,” Athar said. “Not that I willfully lied but that I just made a mistake with the wording, and I would have stepped down if [Desai] asked.”

Gardner’s campaign manager communication studies junior Alex Jones said he brought up the misrepresentation claim because Athar had filed complaints against Gardner. When Jones was made aware of the emails from Desai to Athar, he said he did not know how to react.

“The evidence they supplied [and how they got it] is what the Board classifies as fraud,” Jones said. “It’s unsettling someone would be allowed to get their name tainted to win a Student Government election because that could affect [Athar’s] career in the future.”

Gardner said his campaign has been very careful to tell their approximately 120 team members what they can and cannot do. He said the change to the Election Code and the section that reads candidates will be disqualified if they exceed 20 percent of their spending limit in fines drove them to be extremely careful.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to Yaman and their campaign team,” Gardner said. “It just goes to show the impact of what negative actions could do.”

The Election Supervisory Board ruled Gardner was in violation of the Election Code for renting wood from the Fiji House for $1 per week, a rate much lower than the market value. The Election Code states contributions and expenditures or in kind efforts must be listed and valued at their fair price, as determined by the Election Board. Gardner was issued a ten percent violation fine against his campaign. The Board did not deem Gardner’s website to be in violation of the Election Code and recommended no action because there was no evidence to prove the website was designed by a professional, said ESB co-chair Truc Nguyen.

Desai confirmed he and Langston were withdrawing their disqualification appeal and the disqualification from the ESB stands.

“There are a lot of great people on this campus and they believed in our mission,” Desai said. “I hope that things we fought for continue to be a part of student government and I hope that even if it’s not us that can achieve our goals that someone else will achieve them, and I hope students who supported us will still have opportunities on campus.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: ESB disqualifies Desai campaign

Students sit in the lobby of the Student Activity Center on Thursday. There is a petition to rename the SAC after Margaret C. Berry.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

While many students have affectionately dubbed the new UT Student Activity Center “the NUTSAC,” one group is fighting to rename it for a UT alumna.

Members of Student Government, spirit organizations, fraternities, sororities and other organizations around campus are coming together with the goal of renaming the SAC the Margaret C. Berry Student Activities Center, said business honors program junior Chase Covington. Berry has been involved with the University for 65 years, helping establish and advise organizations such as Orange Jackets and Texas Spirits and earning an honorary membership in Tejas — a spirit group on campus.

“We’re trying to show that there’s a lot of current student support for this,” Covington said. “We’re really just a group of students who feel strongly that we should honor Dr. Berry this way. A lot of student organizations are behind this.”

On Thursday, the group had received about 3,000 signatures from students and alumni, collected since they began tabling in the West Mall on Monday, Covington said. They will table today and are likely to continue in the following weeks, he said.

While they hope to get as many signatures as possible, there is no specific number that they are aiming for, he added.

The group has to go through the Board of Regents to rename the SAC in honor of a UT alumna or faculty member, according to information provided by Marsha Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Dean of Students.

Berry was on campus for major events in UT’s history such as the Charles J. Whitman sniper shooting in the 1960s and the construction of the current UT tower, said political communications junior Alex Jones. Jones is a member of the student senate, Model UN and is a RA with the Residence Hall Council.

The proposed renaming of the SAC is the first effort that is non-resident hall-related that the Residence Hall Council has endorsed since relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, Jones said.

“That kind of puts it into perspective of what they’re willing to sponsor and how big of an event this is,” Jones said. “She’s a distinguished alumna of the highest honor with this University. She ranks among some of the best of the best.”

Berry will be doing a public interview at the Alumni Center today at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the history of UT and to tell personal anecdotes about the University, said Austin attorney Kathy Tally, a UT alumna and member of the Texas Exes.

Tally was president of several student organizations during her time and she became close with Berry, who was a mentor for many student leaders, she said.

The honorific renaming of the building was supposed to be a surprise, but it would have been hard for Berry not to have caught wind of it, Tally said.

“Dr. Berry never married or had children of her own, but there were thousands of UT students who considered her like a second mom,” she said.