Lamar Smith

Recently, debate has swirled around a potential strike on Syria to “punish” the regime of Bashar Al-Assad for an alleged sarin-gas attack on the Syrian rebels that killed 1,429 people. Although U.S. President Barack Obama claims the authority to strike, he decided to put the decision to a vote in Congress, before announcing on Tuesday that he would seek a potential diplomatic resolution instead. 

Recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian government opened the door for a tentative agreement with Syria requiring them to place their chemical weapons into international hands, destroy them and sign a chemical weapons ban. Despite those positive diplomatic developments, armed conflict is still not out of the question.

UT students should write their Congressman to voice their opinion on this critical issue. I wrote Republican Lamar Smith of the 21st district, which includes part of Austin, asking him to oppose the strike and call for the president to respect Congress’ decision. Smith’s office’s response confirmed that the majority of his constituents are opposed and that he is skeptical of intervention.

Smith is right to be skeptical. Obama failed to make his case in Tuesday’s address to the nation. He failed to explain how an intervention, which certainly risks making the situation worse in the short term, will provide long-term stability to the region or advance U.S. objectives. In his speech Tuesday night, Obama made clear he did not want regime change, nor the responsibility for the chain reaction that would cause.

Although some allude to the U.S. bombing of Kosovo in 1999 as a precedent, the potential strike would bear more resemblance to past U.S. interventions in which we militarily supported a relatively unknown opposition only to receive blowback later. According to CNN’s Peter Berger, while only accounting for 10 percent of the opposition forces in Syria, foreign fighters, many of them Al-Qaeda affiliates, are among the rebels’ most skilled fighters. Arming them could prove disastrous in the long term.

Support of the rebels would echo CIA support for Islamic rebel groups in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, militants we are still fighting today. 

More recent controversy surrounds our support for the Libyan rebels in 2011. A year after our overthrow of the old regime, then-President Mohammed Magarief admitted that security forces were likely infiltrated by extremist groups, paving the way for the 2012 attacks on the Benghazi consulate that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.

Intervention would likely be ineffective. With the president having ruled out regime change, what exactly is his plan? How can he avoid putting boots on the ground? Practically speaking, how would Obama’s limited strike be any different from Clinton’s hapless 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan or Israel’s ineffective 2006 campaign against Hezbollah? As editorials invoke the memory of Bosnia, what are the differences and similarities between the ethnic conflicts in those two regions? Most importantly, to what degree can we positively affect the outcome?

Until these questions are answered, our focus should be on seeking diplomatic solutions, and protecting those minorities persecuted by both sides in this conflict. According to an August NBC report by Ammar Cheikhomar and Henry Austin, many of the 2 million Christian Syrians, mistrusted by both sides, have been forced to flee to neighboring countries since the conflict began.

Whatever you think, civic action is key. Although Syria is far away, our congressmen are close. The stakes are high and the potential to sway your local lawmaker is real.

Check your ZIP code, find your congressional district, visit your congressman’s website and finally call or email your congressman (Democrat Lloyd Doggett for the 35th Congressional district, Republican Roger Williams for the 25th and Republican Lamar Smith for the 21st district).

I wrote Lamar Smith as a concerned U.S. citizen, but also as a UT student who believes in civic engagement. If we as students fail to inform ourselves about the activities of our government, especially in times of conflict, then we cannot complain about the consequences of their action — or inaction.

Knoll is a first-year masters student in Latin American Studies from Dallas.

This past Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have increased the number of green cards available to foreign students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). If it had passed, as many as 55,000 visas a year would have gone to foreigners graduating from U.S. doctoral and masters programs, encouraging them to stay in the United States and participate in our economy rather than return overseas and take their talents with them. This proposal should have garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans, but instead the two parties failed to reach a consensus and the STEM Jobs Act died on the U.S. House floor.

The bill, which was sponsored by U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), included a stipulation that the 55,000 visas for highly-educated foreigners would not come from just anywhere. They would be subtracted from the visas granted by lottery to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States, most of which are in poorer parts of the world like Africa and Latin America. According to Smith, whose district includes part of Austin, this provision aimed to limit “fraud and security risks.” Democrats sharply accuse that it would also place an arbitrary limit on the number of legal immigrants admitted to this country.

Foreseeing Democrats’ objections,  Smith and his fellow Republicans attempted to force the bill through the House under a procedure that limits debate and prevents amendments. The Democrats, their bluff called, voted against the bill in sufficient numbers to keep it from reaching the required two-thirds majority. And that was the end of the STEM Jobs Act.

Clearly, the U.S. House Republicans know exactly how beneficial this law would be, even without the limits on other immigrants’ opportunities. “In a global economy, we cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors,” Smith said. “This bill makes our immigration system smarter by admitting those who have the education and skills America needs.” But he left the rest of the sentence unsaid: “ … at everybody else’s expense.”

The high road was open. The Republican-led House could have easily given the nation something everyone can get behind — an influx of skilled college graduates who could give back to the country that educated them. But instead they took that great idea hostage to score a political point and advance their own restrictive, xenophobic immigration philosophy. Now thousands of new graduates and the U.S. economy will pay the price.

For Republicans, redistricting is a coveted opportunity to fracture Austin’s predominately liberal vote between safely conservative seats. But sometimes, their meddling backfires.

Shaped like a crude dragon, Texas’ new 21st congressional district stretches from the edge of Hill Country toward Austin before touching down in northern San Antonio. West Campus, parts of Red River and the majority of Downtown comprise the head of the beast.

Let’s meet UT’s new representative in Congress, Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Prepare to breathe fire.

A graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, Smith was elected to Congress in 1987 and hasn’t left since. During his extended stay, Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has blocked debate on ending Reagan’s War on Drugs, killed the Dream Act and tirelessly chipped away at the reproductive choice of American women.

Smith is most infamous, however, for authoring the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — an anti-piracy bill that would allow companies to petition a friendly judge for an order labeling websites with even one link to copyrighted material as “rogue.” This determination would require Internet service providers to block users from searching for or accessing such sites by name, while carrying a criminal penalty of up to five years.

Critics derided SOPA’s dangerously vague language as compromising Internet security and having a chilling effect on innovation. The coordinated response was as massive as it was unprecedented: On Jan. 18, Wikipedia and Reddit “went dark” in protest of the bill, and while Google collected more than 7 million signatures against the bill, its CEO Eric Schmidt blasted as “draconian.”

The blackout worked. Fearing the wrath of suddenly-educated voters, SOPA began bleeding sponsors and support, with Republican attack-dog Rep. Darrell Issa even conceding it was “beyond repair.” But Lamar Smith — recipient of $396,000 in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry — isn’t giving up. Calling the blackout “a gimmick,” he plans to move forward with the legislation, now rehashed as an ambiguously pronounceable security measure, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CIPSA). If he stays in office, Smith will find a way to pass his pet legislation for those who fund his campaigns.

This campus can stop him. Here’s how: First, canvass the dorms, sit in on the computer labs and go all out on social media.

Next, “Mr. Smith goes home from Washington.” Texas’ semi-open primary allows voters to participate in the primary of their choosing. So we cross over, backing Libertarian-leaning software engineer Richard Morgan in the May 29 Republican Primary.

The resulting noise is sure to bring national media attention and reinforcements to a race already targeted by Reddit and independent groups such as TestPAC, who recently launched an anti-Smith TV and billboard campaign in the district. If we are going to unseat Smith, it will be in this primary with the turnout of Smith’s base depressed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tight grasp over the GOP presidential nomination.

Aside from the $1.3 million in his campaign piggy bank — sneakily styled “Longhorn PAC” — Smith has one powerful tool at his disposal: your apathy.

But not even Smith could craft a bill broad enough to conscript you into this irrationally submissive behavior.

Last January, a broad coalition pushed back against Lamar Smith and his attempts to hand the keys to the Internet over to big business. That job is not finished. The University of Texas must stand against Lamar Smith or subject America to his radical corporate agenda. On May 29, we cross over and knock him out in his own party’s primary and finally let him take that lobbying gig he’s spent 25 years practicing for.

Saltarelli is a second-year law student.

The political action committee Test PAC has its sights set on unseating Rep. Lamar Smith R-Texas using Internet-based tactics, while seeking to differentiate themselves from mainstream politics.

Smith represents the 21st District, which includes the UT campus and areas of west Austin.

Test PAC announced their first campaign “Operation: Mr. Smith Comes Back From Washington” on Feb. 10 on social media websites after the group’s members voted in a poll to decide which congressman their resources would be focused on defeating in the 2012 election.

According to Test PAC’s Facebook page, Smith was chosen for his sponsorship of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, which has since been removed from Congress’ agenda.

Test PAC treasurer Andy Posterick said Test PAC was founded to balance the influence of money in politics with the goal in preserving democratic values.

“We operate on the idea that in a democracy, ideas are more important than money,” Posterick said. “The problem is, politics is so heavily structured around the concept that money buys change, but it doesn’t, and we tried to build a PAC that reflects that.”

Posterick said some of the founding members of Test PAC were involved with previous Internet campaigns to boycott or blackout websites in order to raise awareness of the SOPA bill.

“The website blackout from a few weeks ago, for example, was an idea that our members helped bring to fruition,” Posterick said. “We also pressured Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wisconsin to change his stance on SOPA before most congresspeople had even heard of it.”

According to Test PAC’s Reddit announcement, the group hopes to achieve its goal using social media as well as offline methods, including promoting their cause at UT.

“The information blitz [on Facebook and Twitter] will appeal to Internet users who may have heard of SOPA, but do not fully understand its implications,” the post said. “We have reached out to political leaders on the UT Austin campus.”

Posterick said Smith is the target for the first Test PAC campaign for his sponsorship of SOPA and his connections with the entertainment industry.

“He introduced SOPA, and he was the only congressman still defending it after it was universally admonished by the American people,” Posterick said. “He is heavily lobbied by the [Motion Picture Association of America] and the [Recording Industry Association of America], who are buying legislation that, quite frankly, holds new technology in handcuffs.”

The main goal of the PAC is to protect Internet freedom and members of the online community who are fighting against Internet regulation, Posterick said.

“This campaign, if we get any significant number of votes in April, is also our way of telling Washington that the Internet can now stand up for itself if you try to legislate us,” Posterick said.

Mike Asmus, campaign manager for Smith, said Smith welcomes any challenges to his incumbency and uses his congressional record as evidence for his support of District 21.

“Congressman Smith enjoys a successful history of keeping the trust and support of the people of the 21st District,” Asmus said. “He responds to this and all challenges by running on his record.”

Regarding Smith’s sponsorship of the SOPA bill, Asmus said Smith has since reversed his support for the bill.

“Smith last month formally suspended further committee consideration of the [SOPA] proposal until and unless wider consensus can be reached on how to best crack down on illegal activity conducted on foreign websites,” Asmus said.

Printed on Monday, February 13, 2012 as: Lamar Smith denounced by Test PAC committee