TSA Agent Nabbed in Child Porn Sting, Fear of TSA Increases

Consumerist, owned by Consumer Reports, keeps a healthy eye on the TSA and picked up this story by the Boston Herald that a TSA Agent was among the 55 individuals caught in a child pornography sting. Consumerist reports:

The Transportation Security Administration keeps getting hit with scandal after scandal — from thieving agents to employees with ridiculous demands, or those who leave creepy notes in passengers’ bags. And now, in an even ickier development, a TSA agent who worked at Boston’s Logan International Airport has been nabbed as part of a sweeping child pornography crackdown.

Now this entire issue is somewhat ridiculous, I say that because the TSA is being spotlighted while the employment status of the other 54 people arrested has not been released. Thus, it is easy to see how this story plays into TSA paranoia while others being charged could have had more direct and regular contact with children and the general public. That said there is some interesting material to explore here.

This article is fascinating for its link into the inherent anti-TSA paranoia propagated across the web. There are two tones of criticism of the TSA present in this story: one useful and the other that contributes to the ongoing conspiratorial rhetoric against the TSA.

The Boston Herald notes:

Periodic arrests of TSA agents on sex charges across the nation have fueled criticism of the agency’s screening of its own employees, tasked with patting down the traveling public and keeping the airways safe. At least two other TSA officers assigned to Logan have faced sex charges in the past two years. Sex charges against others have been reported in Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and other states

While, The Boston Herald fails to establish any basis for knowing if this case, and these other periodic cases, when contextualized among the 50,000 TSA officers who have regular contact with the public. It is nonetheless important to consider the standards, or lack thereof, used in hiring and training TSA employees. Given my own research into the TSA’s use of pat-downs and performances of bodily contact, it does suggest that for jobs that regularly require rituals of bodies in contact more clarity of hiring standards could be needed. That said, it would be mistaken to assume that more stringent hiring standards would have automatically precluded this person from being hired by the TSA.

Having said there are legitimate concerns, the standard anti-TSA talking points come in full force in the comments section of the two publications. For example, “Cowboyesfan” wonders “Could looking at the porno scanners all day long have caused this?” “Toadboy65” offers a cogent explanations, “What kind of people do you expect to apply for a job where you are required to fondle people of all ages all day…” and an anonymous poster at the Herald asked “Was he strip searched like all the good TSAs do to the flying public?”

While ignorant internet comments are nothing new (understatement of the decade), discourse of this type shows the disconnect between public discussions of the TSA and the actual TSA itself. As long as this gap persists and the public is lodged in a paranoid vision of the TSA as a mass of pedophiles desiring to see and feel nude bodies, constructive criticism of the agency is unlikely to emerge.


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Belvedere Vodka Puts Rape on the Rocks.


I will refrain from extended comment, however, the above ad-that was online briefly then removed-shows the casualness with which rape is treated in our commodity culture. Outside of violent rape, which is still downplayed and blamed on the victim, date rape and consent derived under the influence of alcohol is a serious issue that our culture makes light of. This ad highlights our culture of rape.

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#Kony2012: Rhetoric of Retribution & Refusing to Address Incisive Criticism [Updated]

[Update] Via @KirtWilson on twitter USA Today is reporting on the first screening of the Kony 2012 in Uganda has lead to a disastrous response from Ugandans. Criticism was immediate and harsh. They report:

If people in those countries care about us, they will not wear T-shirts with Joseph Kony for any reason… That would celebrate our suffering.

You can see Al-Jazeera’s report on the screening below that ended in the crowed throwing rocks at the screen and scattering into the night. One viewer explains, “These are all white men, these are villains different from northern Uganda.” Clearly not the reception Invisible Children desired.


Kony Founders and Maturity Via my twitter account @AcaGuy I have been following the huge viral spread of the Kony 2012 video and the controversy that has surrounded the Invisible Children organization since the film’s release.

The 30 minute film, to its credit offers a compelling narrative that seems geared to a social media generation and aimed at getting audiences in high schools and colleges who screen Invisible Children’s films on the topic to passionately engage with, and care deeply about, stopping Kony.

After the video was released Invisible Children faced a firestorm of criticism and even felt the need to release a second video defending their organization:

The video ends on the right note, perhaps, “There is one thing that everyone agrees on and that is that Joseph Kony Should be stopped.”

As you may notice the video does take on some of the substantive criticisms of the group while simultaneously adding more fodder for some of the core critiques of Invisible Children.

Ben Keesey talks directly about the companies finances and attempts to take on the critique that roughly only a third of donations go to direct action. He emphasizes that about 87% of donations go to their mission and emphasizes their three fold mission:
1) They are a media company that makes people care about Kony
2) They ask for advocacy so that people contact their government
3) The organization is taking direct action on the ground in Uganda

The central issue here is that they are calculating their percent of donations on mission to include their media production budget and roadshows which dominate their finances and those efforts do very little to actually answer the question of how this stops Kony. They say they make “compelling movies and films” to create a narrative to get investment from people so they get involved and contact their government. However, with few answers on what more international action looks like (for them military intervention) there is little to suggest that these efforts achieve much success or make use of local resources. In fact, the only part of the response video that makes much of an impact is when they actually give a chance for local voices to be heard (despite their constant use of subtitles even when these voices speak in clear english). We can diagram the problem with Invisible Children’s model rather succinctly (borrowing from South Park):
1) Launch Massive Expensive Media Campaigns Making Movies and Films
2) ???????????
3) Stop Kony

A second more troubling critique of Kony 2012 has been its mobilization of the white man’s burden. One Ugandan blogger provided a fairly direct critique of Invisible Children’s outdated information and desire to go to Uganda and fix their problems:

Her argument is well articulated and ignored in the response by Invisible children. All of this comes to the main substantive critique of Invisible Children and their desire for (military) intervention in Uganda and in the search for Kony in neighboring African countries:
1) Why is it their job to solve this issue?
2) Who are they to dictate how Ugandan’s deal with their internal politics?
3) What drives their need to go elsewhere, ignoring the needs of the invisible children in their neighborhoods and communities that need help as well?
4) What was so bankrupt in Keller’s life that he had to travel the globe to find meaning for his life.

Some of the answer may lie in the colonizing and paternalistic discourse dripping from their campaign rhetoric and personal narratives of discovering Kony as the uncivilized other that must be stopped by the white knight. As Jezebel describes Keesey’s moment of conversion, he:

turned down a cushy job at a big accounting firm after he graduated from UCLA because he was so “deeply moved” by the low-production value of an earlier Invisible Children video that he just had to join in the fight to defeat Joseph Kony’s fading Lord’s Resistance Army”

Keesy needs to solve this problem because it is easier to deal with problems there than here and as has been pointed out by a mass array of critics, notably Visible Children, Invisible Children does this through a systematic oversimplification of the situation in Uganda. Be sure to check out the video, read up on Invisible Children, and ask questions. Keensey even says he is answering questions via twitter so shoot questions @Invisible #askICanything and maybe he will answer you. Anything can happen.

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Deconstructing Arguments of Resistance Towards the #TSA [Updatedx2]

Consumerist is reportating that the TSA is attempting to caution media outlets and bloggers from covering this story altogether. They report:

“I received an email from the TSA saying they would ‘strongly caution’ me against covering the story. They say you’re a man that “clearly has an agenda” and should ‘not be aided by the mainstream media.'”

Unpacking these two claims we can see the TSA is going about making a valid point in a very problematic way. As my original post argues vigorously the creator of the video does “clearly has an agenda,” an anti-tsa agenda at that. However, strongly cautioning against disseminating this story is an attempt to chill the free reporting of news (this seems to qualify as news especially if the loophole exists) and continues a strategy of dead silence that will only embolden the conspiratorial logic and rhetoric of the TSA’s critics.

Moreover, the TSA is making the wrong play here. The should address the potential loophole, offer a solution (even if this takes time), and address the video’s creator’s agenda as part of their response. While in general it is bad form for a government agency to go after a private citizen, in this case the invective in the video is full of so much off topic and unsourced editorializing that the TSA’s silence is in part driving the viral nature of the story.

To be clear, no response will shake the anti-TSA fervor of the TSA’s ardent critics, represented in this artifact. However, trying to chill the press from covering it widens the audience susceptible to the conspiracy’s logic and is a strategic blunder for the TSA.


The TSA has publicly responded stating:

For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field…With all that said, it is one layer of our 20 layers of security (Behavior Detection, Explosives Detection Canines, Federal Air Marshals, , etc.) and is not a machine that has all the tools we need in one handy device. We’ve never claimed it’s the end all be all.

It is clear that this is a pretty typical non-response. Citing security reasons they cannot say if this method is able to circumvent whole body imagers. As a result there is no actual confirmation of if the gap in security exists. That said, their emphasis on layered security does emphasize the voracious fetish with whole body imagers by anti-TSA critics is detrimental to a holistic conversation about security in the United States.


Disclosure: I am currently writing my doctoral dissertation on the TSA and I cover many aspects of the TSA and one of my dissertation chapters focuses on public resistance to the TSA. As such, I perk up when a video claiming to beat the TSA or to resist the TSA begins to go viral on the internet.

Last night I came across this video purporting to have found a way to beat the whole body imagers used by the TSA to screen passengers, employees, and some visitors to our nations airports.

I am fascinated by this video’s schizoid representation of anti-TSA discourse. On the one hand, if the video’s purported flaw in both backscatter and millimeter wave technology is accurate then it could pose an enormous security risk to the nation’s air infrastructure. That said, his videos of clearing security offer no actual evidence since the videos do not show him actually carrying the device through (admittedly an almost impossible video to get). Thus, as someone concerned about the types of security used this make me nervous as a researcher, traveler, and taxpayer.

Second, as a rhetorical critic I am deeply suspicious of the numerous non-sequeters made throughout the video that draw on a dangerous conspiratorial rhetoric surrounding the TSA and do little to engage the TSA on policy terms they are likely to respond to. To provide some analysis lets move through a transcript of the claims he makes.

Lets move paragraph by paragraph here:

I’m publishing this video because I want the world to know how much danger the American Transportation Security Administration is putting all us all in with their haste to deploy the expensive, invasive nude body scanner program. When the machines came out, we were told that the invasion on our privacy, doses of radiation, and trashing of our Constitution were necessary because the old metal detectors weren’t good enough. That “non-metallic explosives” were a threat, even though no one has boarded a plane in the US with any type of explosive in nearly 40 years. But while America was testing these devices, Rafi Sela, who ran security for Ben Gurion airport in Israel, which is known for being one of the most secure airports in the world, was quoted saying he could “overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to take down a Boeing 747,” and Ben Gurion therefore refused to buy scanners. The US ignored this warning, and Mr. Sela never publicly explained his statement. But it stuck with me.

We have two issue at work here: First in terms of rhetorical framing by calling them nude body scanners (yes they see underneath your clothes and can make out anatomical detail, but this description is just as much a rhetorical trope as calling them whole body imagers) we can see clear political motivation at work that undermines the credibility of the entire effort. A motive based on despising the TSA is apparent and a desire to expose them is manifested far before concern for safety.

Second, Mr Sela’s lack of explanation, while alarming, is not enough on its own. It neglects innovation in the software and attempts to prove the situation with a negative-an absence of evidence as proof of a flaw. We have reason to be suspect already.

As a scientist, engineer, and frequent traveler, as well as the first person to sue the TSA when they rolled out the scanners as primary in Nov. 2010, I studied and learned about both kinds of scanners currently in use by the TSA. Here are several images produced by TSA nude body scanners. You’ll see that the search victim is drawn with light colors and placed on a black background in both images. In these samples, the individuals are concealing metallic objects that you can see as a black shape on their light figure. Again that’s light figure, black background, and BLACK threat items. Yes that’s right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same color as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection.

First, his appeal “As a scientist, engineer, and frequent traveler, as well as the first person to sue the TSA when they rolled out the scanners as primary in Nov. 2010, I studied and learned about both kinds of scanners currently in use by the TSA” is of no consequence at face value. As Ben Goldacre reminds us, especially in science, appeals to authority are the weakest forms of credibility. What kind of scientist? What kind of engineer? How frequently do you travel? This may all be relevant, but it is used here to suppose credibility without substantiation. It may all be relevant but the discourse lacks credibility because too much is left unsaid.

Second, the analysis of the images and the use of a negative background is fascinating and the moment where the video is useful. I am interested to know if this is a software or hardware issue with the machines and if this flaw can be addressed procedurally or not. Here the showing and telling is enough to spark concern.

It can’t possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they?

Alas, he falls back to a snide tone instead of critical discourse. As a litigant I am sure calling the agency you are suing stupid will help your case (See what I did there?). Besides there is a difference between stupid and calculated risk. The point is, vocal critics of the TSA in the face of enormously powerful arguments against agency actions often choose the lowest forms of argumentation to make their points. We will see more evidence of that later.

Unfortunately, they can, and they are. To put it to the test, I bought a sewing kit from the dollar store, broke out my 8th grade home ec skills, and sewed a pocket directly on the side of a shirt. Then I took a random metallic object, in this case a heavy metal carrying case that would easily alarm any of the “old” metal detectors, and walked through a backscatter x-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. On video, of course. While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket. My camera gets placed on the conveyer belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

Maybe a fluke? Ok, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimeter wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in. With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.

While I carried the metal case empty, by one with mal-intent, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous 7 gram rocks of cocaine. With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. It’s important to note that any metal object of any size can use this technique. …and I don’t urge you to try to bring contraband through security, as the nude body scanners often have false positives: so while the metal on your side might get through, a button on your shirt or a sweaty armpit might “look suspicious” and earn you a pat down anyway.

Here we get his experiment, that offers compelling evidence and should come with an even more strident don’t try this at home warning. The video could have been shortened to this point and a solicitation for comment, but alas, it continues devolving into fairly normalized anti-TSA rhetoric.

Now, I’m sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it’s beyond belief that the terrorists haven’t already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us. It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety: anything to force Americans to give up our liberty to the federal government and our tax dollars to companies that are in bed with that government. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud, which should come as no surprise after the Fast & Furious scandal that sent thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels and cost a Customs and Border Patrol agent his life. THIS is a disgrace. So let’s fix this problem — now — before the terrorists take this opportunity to hurt us: the TSA must immediately end the nude body scanner program, and return to the tried-and-true metal detectors that actually work, and work without invading our privacy, as well as implement better solutions for non-metallic explosives, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and trace detection machines.

First, we have a straw person argument at the top. He offers a direct idea of how the TSA responds allowing him to define the argumentative terrain before the TSA responds (its unlikely they will do so-I have reached out to their blog team for comment).

Second, he reads sets of desires into the TSA that are wholly unsubstantiated:
(1) arrogantly decided to disregard our safety (As opposed to safety being a complex and impossible mandate)
(2) anything to force Americans to give up our liberty to the federal government (The TSA was not the initiating actor it was created and given a mandate)
(3)The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud, which should come as no surprise after the Fast & Furious scandal that sent thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels and cost a Customs and Border Patrol agent his life. (There is not enough evidence to deem the program a fraud. Can this vulnerability be sealed? It is evidence irrefutable? What does the TSA have to do with Fast & Furious?-Non-sequitor? On this point we can see extremely poor and paranoid reasoning patterns coming to play.

Last, he makes the claim “the TSA must immediately end the nude body scanner program, and return to the tried-and-true metal detectors that actually work, and work without invading our privacy, as well as implement better solutions for non-metallic explosives, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and trace detection machines” Aside from his demands going nowhere, his mistake is to assume that metal detectors are tried and true, they are not and routinely provide inadequate security. Moreover, trace machines are less efficient than whole body imagers. A massive use of bomb-sniffing dogs is compelling and possibly an interesting layer to consider, but he offers no evidence of their feasibility at massive passenger screening locations.

My point in all of this is not to shame a vocal critic of the TSA. I think we need more vocal critics of the TSA. However, I do believe that when folks take to the public screen to criticize the TSA they need to make clearer arguments that rests less on recycled conspiratorial rhetoric and focuses more on evidence-based discussion of the gaps between the TSA’s mandate to secure the nation’s air infrastructure and its potential shortcomings. Those arguments are likely to be publicly persuasive. Otherwise, the argumentative patters above are too easily dismissed and unlikely to gain the mainstream traction needed to alter public discourse about the TSA.

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The Limits of Argumentative Reason: Rhetoric Advocating War with Iran

Last August my colleague Nicholas A. Russell at CSU Long Beach and I presented a paper at the 17th Biennial Conference on Argumentation held in Alta, Utah. That paper titled “Dangerous Desires: The Limits of Argumentative Reason in Public HIV/AIDS Health Campaigns,” was subsequently published in the conference proceedings Reasoned Argument and Social Change. In the essay we undertake a sustained attack on the usefulness of reason and rationality as a mechanism for judgement in contemporary argumentation. While historically reason has long been the standard of proper debate, we find ample reason to find it suspect. In our essay we draw upon a group of men who intentionally contract HIV/AIDS as a case study for the failing of rationality in typical AIDS prevention discourse aimed at this population.

Our argument suggests that reason should be subject to increased criticism for several reasons. First, drawing from Deleuze and Guattari we argue:

“Reason,” they argue, “is only a concept, and a very impoverished concept for defining the plane and the movements that pass through it” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, p. 43). For them, reason is a problematic concept because of its association with state politics: “realized reason,” they argue, “is identified with the de jure State” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 375). Reason is summoned to serve the interests of State politics, which in turn erase subjectivities (and desires) that are at odds with the state.(Russell and McHendry 640)

Reason is controlled by the state and the state, almost always, comes to determine what is and is not reasonable. We offer instead an alternative concept for understanding argumentative disputes: desire. We argue:

In its place, Deleuze offers a version of ethics based in the question: What modes of living do they facilitate? As such, by centering desire, as opposed to reason, we can see that bug chasers would avoid the question of “‘What must I do?’ (which is the question of morality) but rather… How can I go to the limit of what I ‘can do’?” (Smith, 2007, p. 67). In essence, this line of thinking asks what the body is capable of but these ways of living do not “depend on an object or belong to a subject” they are ways of living (Deleuze, 2001, 26). (642)

Desire offers the ability to trace out competing ways of living in an array of conflicting ethics in a complex world. Moreover, because desires are multiple, contradictory, and can overlap it allows for more ability to clash than chasing a singular definition of reasoned argument.

It seams clear, sadly, that many in both the professional right and left are beating the drum of war with Iran. As Israel increases its posturing (and feelings of legitimized threats from Iran) the U.S. seems poised to, perhaps, enter into another conflict in the Middle East. Given our over commitment of defense resources abroad and the fragile state of our recovery another military engagement hardly seems rational, but Iran has long been a target of desire: A rogue state, part of the axis of evil, and a budding nuclear power. Iran makes the perfect target for the United States of America to desire a conflict with. Its status as a stable state makes up for all of the inadequacies over the muddled and complex conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Underscoring the difficulty of using reason as a standard for assessing the drum beat of war with Iran is this exchange between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA):

The central point of contention is whether or not Iran is a rational actor. Price is “stunned” and requests that Dempsey support his assertion. Dempsey offers a few bits of argumentation: (1) “The alternative is that we attribute to them that their actions are so irrational that they have no basis of planning.” (2) “The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” (3) “I don’t understand their rationality but I’m not them.” Price interjects “You believe it to be rational on their part to seek nuclear weapons?” Dempsey responds, “Absolutely not on my terms?”

Here we have a beautiful case study in the failing of rationality and the exercising of desire. Dempsey is expressing the limits of an official statist view of rationality being applied to Iran. Stated simply, viewed from the perspective of the interests of the United States of America there is no way to call Iran’s actions rational, but to force those standards upon them as a weighing mechanism for military action runs the risk of trivializing “their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” Price clearly wants to have a singular view of rationality, his, and is stunned that any other standard of argumentation would be applied to considering military action with Iran.

Here is where desire is important. We can trace Price’s desire to see Iran as irrational, Dempsey’s desire to recognize them as a rational military actor, Iran’s desire to become a military actor, and so on all coming out as this conversation begins to cycle up in the public domain. Each actor is exercising multiple sets of desires, desires that likely are driven by a savage bloodlust and could end in military conflict, but we should be clear that any outcome is unlikely to be rational-what ever that means.

Price’s failure is not his desire to see Iran as irrational or for war with Iran if that is his true desire. The mistake is to expect a single standard of rationality to be a demarkation of the proper in contemporary argumentation.

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Breitbart, Olbermann, and the Claims of Rape at Occupy Protests


Rape likely occurs-based on Breitbart’s own statistics-at a far higher rate in the society as a whole than it ever did in occupy. Rape occurs on country roads and urban corridors. It happens in the suburbs and at schools. It occurs in our neighbors houses and even in the beds of married couples. Consent is coerced using drugs and alcohol, force and power, and this is the part of rape that is neglected in this discussion.

Do we need to explore the sexual politics and material reality of rape in occupy-yes! However, if Olbermann and Breitbart are suddenly so concerned about issues of rape I would invite them to take a shot the much larger issue of rape in our culture. That is a problem that can not be blamed on liberals as animals and demands more than a partisan ideology.

In what would seem like a superfluous contest of irrelevancy if it did not entail the serious issue of rape, Andrew Breitbart and Keith Olbermann got into a heated battle over the role of the Occupy movement in the rape of what Breitbart claims is at least a “dozen” people across the movement. In retweeting and replying to Olbermann (and being retweeted from there) I received a number of nasty replies from acolytes of Breitbart. Nonetheless, the issue of rape in occupy is important because it poses a number of issues of agency, response, and responsibility for a leaderless movement.

The incident that sparked the flareup was Breitbart confronting a group of Occupy protestors outside this year’s CPAC conference:

Breitbart can be heard clearly yelling

Stop raping people, stop raping the people…you freaks, you filthy freaks, you filthy filthy filthy raping murdering freaks.

His animus towards occupy makes it impossible to deal with him seriously as an advocate for those who were victims of assault in occupy encampments (especially those who were or are still members of the occupy movement). I wonder if he would blame them for being members of the movement.

Breitbart claims, “I said stop raping people, I am saying to the occupy movement, writ large…” He also claims that his bellicose yelling at Occupy protestors outside of CPAC was a stunt. The problem with his claim is that he makes Occupy into a a single unified agent that that is committing the rapes. Occupy is not an institution, as I have written on this blog before they are best understood using the Deleuzian concept of haecceity. They are a multiplicity and that lack of clear hierarchy likely is what drives Breitbart crazy and makes it impossible to substantiate the claim that occupy was raping people. Moreover, he has no evidence that the protestors he was yelling at in the video are rapists.

As for Olbermann, he often deflects attention away from the issue by hedging that members of occupy were victims and that it may have been outsiders that committed the assaults. This could be true, or not. However, occupy’s initial response to sexual assault undermines the sympathetic case Olbermann builds. As Jezebel (of all places) reports, the sexual politics of Occupy are incredibly complex. The initial response was to attempt to handle issues of crime and sexual assault internally, directing victims “to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee” as opposed to authorities. However, after widespread criticism many encampments became more open to letting authorities in and to providing areas with services specifically for sexual assault or rape. Showing their interest in stopping rape, as opposed to scoring ideological points, critics of occupy dubbed the areas providing these services rape free zones.

The core issue here is that rape is a serious crime and should be reported to authorities immediately. What is worse is that only about 25% of rapes are reported. Meaning that Occupy’s impulse to deter reporting says as much about the politics of occupy as it does about American society-we rather not talk about rape or deal with it. Breitbart’s core message “stop raping people” is a great message but is less efficacious and is wasted when his political motivations are revealed. The central message to every American, given that we live in a culture permissive of rape, ought to be stop raping people. Consider that The New York Time reported that government officials were shocked to find that 1 in five women in the U.S. had been raped. The occupy encampments are the perfect phantasmagoria of conservative fears of liberal occupation as rape scene-unwashed masses defying social order in a soup of social disobedience. This, like the mysterious dark alley, seems the proper place for rape. Of course there is never a proper place for rape. Moreover, rape likely occurs-based on Breitbart’s own statistics-at a far higher rate in the society as a whole than it ever did in occupy. Rape occurs on country roads and urban corridors. It happens in the suburbs and at schools. It occurs in our neighbors houses and even in the beds of married couples. Consent is coerced using drugs and alcohol, force and power, and this is the part of rape that is neglected in this discussion.

Do we need to explore the sexual politics and material reality of rape in occupy-yes! However, if Olbermann and Breitbart are suddenly so concerned about issues of rape I would invite them to take a shot the much larger issue of rape in our culture that persists long after the violent and peaceful evictions of a number of the occupy encampments. It is at a cultural permissibility of rape that sees 1 in 5 women experience rape and only 1 in 4 report it that Breitbart’s ire should be directed. That is a problem that can not be blamed on liberals as animals and demands more than a partisan ideology.

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Rick Perry’s Strong #Rhetoric and the Politics of Censoring Hate Speech

[Warning this post contains references to Judith Butler that some may find always objectionable and already incomprehensible. Fair enough.]

This week Rick Perry pulled up his boots and stepped in it once again delivering a divisive new ad that among other things appears at its face to be homophobic and launches a direct attack agains Barack Obama for operating a “war on religion.” The ad reads:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.
I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.
(Transcription Here)

Several issues persist with the internal logic of the video itself. First, the overturning of a discriminatory practice in the military is not a defacto attack on any religious set of practices. Moreover, no direct link has been made that argues Obama has, himself, forced any school anywhere to stop openly celebrating Christmas. The ridiculousness of such a claim was laid bare when Perry tries to defend it. When asked by Wolf Blitzer about Obama’s War on Christmas Perry responds with “I’m just giving you some examples of what we’re seeing from the left, of which, I would suggest to you, President Obama is a member of the left and, uh, substantial left of center beliefs.” In essence, he has no substance and is only able to launch a vague attack on the left. See a portion of the interview and Think Progress’ take on the interview here.

Perry’s ad and message smacks of desperation, playing on the social issues of God and Gays to rally support as his presidential campaign fizzles. Yet, it is these very issues that Timothy Egan argues are losing traction among the right. Regarding, Perry’s ad Egan writes, “This is Perry’s last gasp; in desperation, he shows how this particular balloon has run out of hot air. Poll after poll has found that Americans now overwhelmingly favor letting gays serve openly in the military — a sentiment backed even by a sizable majority of Republicans.” As Perry’s presidential ambitions dwindle his campaign and his ads enter a kind of farcical phase. Even his choice in wardrobe becomes subject to satire. To wit: BrokeBack Perry This image, being shared on Facebook and other popular social networking sites point out the similarities in Perry’s wardrobe and the critically acclaimed cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain. The irony derived from both the film’s and Perry’s use of a rugged cowboy ethos for radically different ends suggests the fractures in the culture wars are beyond repair. Moreover, parodies of the advertisement are appearing all over the internet. Some even take on Perry’s logic directly and reverse his claims blaming people of faith for every problem this country faces. Take this parody from The Partisans for example:

All of this suggests to me that we may have seen the moment where Rick Perry’s campaign has jumped the shark. In its desperation to get back into the GOP primary race Perry went all in on social issues (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the War on Christmas/Obama’s War on Religion) that lack the permanence and vivacity to revive his ailing campaign. In a sentence, the ad is ridiculous. That does not, however, let Perry off the hook and we should remember that given the materiality of discourse we should consider how to respond to a rhetoric that attempts wedge a policy of hate and division for the purpose of political advantage.

It is here that I noticed, and was disappointed by, some of my friends and colleagues who desired to censor the ad instead of responding to it. Another image that I saw circulating with great popularity on Facebook asked users to go to youtube.com and (1) flag the ad as inappropriate, (2) for reasoning indicate that it contains hateful or abusive content, (3) indicate the ad promotes hatred or violence, (4) indicate the ad contains hate speech about “sexual orientation,” (5) then share these steps with others.
FB flag youtube

While I find Perry’s advertisement intellectually dishonest, desperate, disgusting, and one of the lowest forms of politics following the impetus to censor the ad is dangerous response to hate speech. First, we know that censorship stifles discussion, dialogue, and intervention in the dissemination of hateful ideologies. Stoping homophobic discourse from being expressed by political leaders will not make homophobia disappear because no act of censorship is a total act of discursive invisibility. As Butler argues in Excitable Speech

This view maintains that a text always escapes the acts by which it is censored, and that censorship is always and only an attempted or partial action. here, it seems, something about the text under censorship exceeds the reach of the censor, suggesting that some account is required of this “excessive” dimension of speech.(129)

Removing the ad from youtube will likely to shift the conversation away from the homophobic nature of the advertisement and poor quality of argumentation and instead agitate sympathetic media to report on the censorship of the ad and not the content of the ad itself. Not to mention that youtube is one of many places the ad has been released make the act, though symbolic, materially ineffective at removing the speech from the discursive field of contemporary American politics. It is of course ironic that the case Butler made in her analysis of censorship was the original institution of DADT and yet her I mobilize it to oppose those who wish to shout down a politician who wants to reinstate such a perilous social experiment. For Butler, however statements are performantive in that they have force in the material world. Given that framework, we ought not censor Perry and not allow his performative homophobia rest under the surface but instead be laid bare. The more we welcome his subjectivity into the realm of speakability the more transparent his politics become and the more efficacious our rhetorical responses can be.

In essence our impulse in the face of excitable speech must never be censorship, especially when words wound. Instead, it must be engagement with the material reality of living in a world where the flows of power operate to subject and oppress the majority of Americans to serve the interests of those who exercise the flows of power to their advantage.

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